SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Not long after the Thursday terrorist attack in France that killed at least 80, local police were called to the Muslim Community Center of Kingston’s Masjid Al-Hoda mosque for reports of a malicious vandal that broke one window with what appeared to be an axe and spraypainted “Mohammed Prophet of butchers” in red on the north-facing wall. Since then, the general public has come together to show their support for the local Muslim community.
Three police officers arrived on scene early Thursday morning after a confidential witness reported seeing someone dressed in all black using a long-handled axe to break the large, north-facing window at the mosque. Before police arrived, the suspect was reported to have run through the Christ the King church parking lot. South Kingstown and URI police canvassed the area to no avail.
“After a lengthy search, nothing of evidentiary value was located,” reads the police report.
The lessee of the building reported no suspected suspects nor did he have video surveillance.
The charge facing the perpetrator has been elevated to a felony, as enumerated in Rhode Island General Law, as a “desecration of a place of public assemblage.”
“As a global university with deep ties to France through our students and faculty, we offer our sympathies, our prayers, and our support to our friends overseas as they again confront unfathomable violence and death,” said URI president David Dooley following the desecration. “At the same time, the University condemns the vandalism and the defacing of the Muslim Community Center of Kingston’s Masjid Al-Hoda, also overnight. This senseless act of hatred in our traditionally peaceful community points to the larger issues of violence and fear that are increasingly prevalent throughout society today. But those who engage in such heinous actions should know that the University of Rhode Island community is a strong one and will not be intimidated.”
Dooley met with members of the Muslim Community Center the following morning.
“Unlike the person or persons responsible for this crime, they offered forgiveness, and their hopes that people would come to the center to learn about Islam and their faith community,” said Dooley. “We are honored to have the center here in Kingston, and its members, many of whom are faculty, staff and students at the University. They enrich our community with their presence, as do all faith communities in Kingston.”
The Rhode Island State Council of Churches (RISCC) immediately condemned the desecration as well as former US Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich's suggestion that American Muslims be “tested” for their level of adherence to Sharia Law.
“We know the Rhode Island Muslim Community of be a peace loving people who are actively working with the broader Rhode Island Community to help make our state a better place for all our residents. This commitment has been demonstrated in numerous ways,” reads a statement by the RISCC. “We also condemn the unconstitutional call to apply a religious test to American Muslims. Rhode Islanders should be especially offended by this anti-American sentiment. We are the 'lively experiment' state that welcomes all expressions of faith and those whose claim no faith tradition. We cannot let fear overrule our cherished principles.”
The National Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on state and federal law enforcement officials to investigate the crime as a hate crime. They, too, denounced Gingrich's Inquisition-style pursuit of Muslim Americans.
"We will not let ourselves be divided by turning on each other or by throwing away the principles of justice and religious inclusion on which our nation was founded,” said CAIR-MA executive director Dr. John Robbins. “We call for stepped-up protection of America’s Islamic institutions and for the repudiation of calls to hate and division by irresponsible public figures.”
American Muslim organizations such as CAIR are equally expedient in condemning terror attacks perpetrated by those identifying as Muslims and have called for unity against ISIS.
The weekly Friday prayers at the mosque were not interrupted, and the community received support from the general public throughout the night and following morning boarding up the windows and removing the graffiti. A well-attended vigil was held Saturday evening, which saw attendance from not only community members but members of the South Kingstown and Narragansett Town Councils and school committees.