Masjid al Hoda, also known as the Muslim Community Center of Kingston, was vandalized at around 11 pm, according to South Kingstown police. The mosque is near the University of Rhode Island campus and serves as the place of worship for many students, faculty and South County residents.
Several windows were broken and “Muhammad Prophet of butchers” was spray painted on an outside wall of the Fortin Road mosque.
“A witness to the incident described seeing a lone perpetrator wearing all black with a hood covering their head break a window with what appeared to be a long handled axe,” according to a news release from SK police department.
Members of the Muslim community and campus leaders both were surprised by the act of intolerance.
“This is a very peaceful community, very little happens here, we’re very supported here and we are a part of the community so we didn’t expect it,” said Nasser Zawia, a URI neuroscience professor and spokesman for the mosque. “But given everything that is going in the world these days with terrorism in France and everywhere else and what is happening in the US, it is … not necessarily understandable but expected that somebody would act out of ignorance.”
URI President David Dooley told RI Future, “I really never expected anything like this to happen here. It’s just not been the kind of place either on the campus on in Kingston as a whole where these acts are very common. I was dismayed that it happened. It was just one of those moments when you say, ‘what is happening to us, why do these things seem to be so much more common than they were, what forces are driving people to behave in this way’ and more importantly ‘what can we do mitigate it, prevent it and create a world where these acts are just much less common.'”
Zawia and Dooley both said they plan to turn the incident into a teachable moment. Zawia encouraged Rhode Islanders to befriend a Muslim. There is a community meal, open to the public, every other Saturday evening, at the Muslim Community Center of Kingston. He encouraged people to attend. There is an interfaith vigil at the mosque (60 Fortin Rd. Kingston) Saturday at 1:30. All people are encouraged to attend.
Dooley said, “We want to take every act like this, as hurtful and as harmful as it might be, and look at how we can use it as a moment to strengthen our ties together. We’re not going to be intimidated, we’re going to be helpful.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is calling on local and federal authorities “to investigate vandalism targeting an Islamic school in Rhode Island as a hate crime,” according to a news release.
The vandalism was removed by noon on Friday. This is at least the second incident of vandalism to a Muslim institution in Rhode Island. In February, 2015, a Muslim school in West Warwick was vandalized.
Zawia said, “To be honest with you with all this horrible stuff we’ve been watching on TV and with all the deaths of innocent people it has kind of muted the way we react. It’s not novel. This compared to that was really nothing. We are approaching this as just a minor incident. It’s very sad. We’re having horrible hateful rhetoric at the national level. If you propagate hate, you will get hate. If you propagate tolerance you are going to get that.”
South Kingstown police detectives are investigating and believe “there was a witness that did observe someone running from the area,” said Captain Joel Ewing-Chow. A news release from the police reads:
At approximately 11 PM on July 14, 2016 the South Kingstown Police Department received a call reporting windows being smashed at the Muslim Community Center located at 60 Fortin Road in Kingston, RI. Officers responded and found a window broken as well as the words “Muhammad Prophet of Butchers” spray painted in red lettering on the outside of the building. A witness to the incident described seeing a lone perpetrator wearing all black with a hood covering their head break a window with what appeared to be a long handled axe. This individual then ran from the scene. South Kingstown Police as well as members of the University of Rhode Island Police Department checked the immediate area and could not locate the suspect.
The South Kingstown Police Department is currently actively investigating the incident.
If anyone has any information they are asked to please call the South Kingstown Police Department at (401)783-3321.
“This is a blessed community in Rhode Island and we should never think that the act of one person should tarnish all of us,” Zawia said. “We should just stay together, we are in it together.”