Dozens attend vigil at vandalized Muslim community center

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — Dozens of people crowded into the Muslim Community Center of Kingston’s Masjid Al-Hoda Saturday afternoon for an interfaith vigil.

The gathering comes in the wake of vandalism at the center, including a smashed window and graffiti that read, “Muhammed, prophet of butchers.”

“We can either find strength and solace in our faith and be strong and do what we know is right, or we can cave into fear and ignorance and do foolish things like what happened at this place,” said Rev. Don Anderson of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.

Anderson was just one of many faith leaders to offer their words of support at the vigil Saturday. All of those who spoke spread a message of unity and tolerance in the face of division and hatred.

“We stand together and will not be oppressed,” said Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman of Temple Beth El. “We will not be cowardly, we will stand together to oppose hatred and division and fear.”

The community center sits adjacent to the University of Rhode Island and serves many in the school community. URI professor Katrin Jomaa, who teaches Islamic religion at the school, said she worried about what would happen in the aftermath of the vandalism. She said the show of support from the community and other religious leaders was comforting.

“I feel that I shouldn’t be afraid,” she said. “I feel that I shouldn’t let the fear sink into my mind.”

On Thursday night, the evening the vandalism took place, an eyewitness reported seeing a lone perpetrator wearing all black with a hood covering his or her head. The witness said the suspect used what appeared to be a long-handled axe to break the window, according to police. As of Saturday evening, South Kingstown police had not yet made an arrest.

After the vigil, the community center’s spokesman, Nasser Zawia, said he hopes the vandal will join them in prayer one day. He said the vandal’s hatred is born of ignorance.

“When they get to know you and talk to you, then they find you’re just a human being like them,” he said.

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