In the wake of the fire that destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center early Saturday morning a deluge of donations has already provided the organization with more money than they'd asked for on a GoFundMe page to rebuild their mosque.
It's still unclear how the fire at the started at the mosque — the only Muslim house of worship in the city located about 115 miles southwest of Houston — but the timing has attracted national attention, with the fire coming only hours after President Donald Trump had signed an executive order banning immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, sparking nationwide protests.
The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, but there have been a few incidents at the Victoria mosque over the years. The Victoria Islamic Center was formed in the 1980s but they didn't have a real mosque until 2000. The mosque had been standing less than a year when someone left a severed pig's head outside the building, shortly after the 9/11 terrorists, leading the founders to install a security system and video surveillance, according to the Victoria Advocate.
Then in 2013 a teenager sprayed "H8" on one of the building's walls during Ramadan, once again grabbing national headlines. (Once the kid's parents found out what he'd done, they had him turn himself in and the organization didn't press charges.)
And it was just over a week ago that the mosque was burglarized. On January 22, someone kicked in the backdoor of the building and stole laptops and other electronics.
Because of the recent burglary, the congregation's imam was keeping a sharp eye on the place, according to the Victoria Advocate. When the imam checked the mosque's online surveillance system early Saturday morning he noticed the doors were unlocked and the alarm was off. By the time he got to the building, firefighters were hard at work and the building was engulfed in flames.
Members of the congregation gathered on the curb across the street from the building on Saturday morning and watched as firefighters worked to gain control of the blaze, according to the Victoria Advocate. The building was completely destroyed and it uninsured.
But the community has rallied around the mosque congregation since then. About 400 people showed up for an interfaith prayer service on Sunday. Meanwhile, donations have poured in through a GoFundMe page that was set up shortly after the fire.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The GoFundMe page got more than $600,000 in the first 24 hours after it was set up. By Monday the donations had already surpassed the $850,000 goal. More than 18,000 people had donated more than $900,000 by Monday evening.
"It's incredible. We are very grateful," Shahid Hashmi, the president of the Victoria Islamic Center, told Al Jezeera.
Hashmi and the other members of the Victoria Islamic Center have urged the public repeatedly to avoid jumping to conclusions about the cause of the fire. Hashmi emphasized that while there have been a few problems over the years, the community of Victoria has been largely supportive. "When 9/11 happened, Muslims and non-Muslims, we all got together," he told the Associated Press. "Of course, we will rebuild."
They've also responded by stating their appreciation on their GoFundMe page: "Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the tremendous support we've received. The outpouring of love, kind words, hugs, helping hands and the financial contributions are examples of the true American spirit."