A Muslim community center in Kingston was the target of vandalism, in what may be a response to an apparent terrorist attack in Nice, France.
The mosque, Masjid Al-Hoda, reported a broken window and graffiti, which read "Muhammad Prophet of butchers" scrawled on the building. South Kingstown police said they received the call about 11 o'clock on Thursday night.
An eye-witness described a single perpetrator, who fled the scene. In a statement, South Kingstown Police Captain Joel Ewing-Chow said his department is still investigating.
A spokesman for the mosque, Nasser Zawia, said he was shocked but not surprised by the vandalism, given the widespread horror and sorrow over violent acts in Nice and elsewhere. Still, Zawia said the incident was unusual for what is usually a peaceful town near the University of Rhode Island campus.
"A lot of times, hate comes out of ignorance," said Zawia, who is also the dean of URI's graduate school of pharmacy. "If that person would interact with us they would realize we are part of the fabric of Rhode Island and we are just like everybody else, and it would dispel a lot of the fears this person had."
Zawia said members of the mosque "hold no anger or hostility or anything towards this person."
Members of the state’s Muslim community are responding to the attack. People gathered at Masjid Al-Hoda in Kingston Friday afternoon for weekly prayers and service. Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement spokeswoman Aisha Manzoor said the group is trying to remain optimistic. She said the outpouring of support has been overwhelming.
“We have received so many messages of hope and just lots of prayers and thoughts,” said Manzoor “People have just been pouring in with emails and phone calls and text messages. And it’s beautiful. And we have to believe that love can overcome hate.”
Aisha Manzoor said her community continues to fight negative assumptions about the Muslim religion.
“We’re not all linked to one mind, and we’re all trying to just live our lives peacefully, and be good citizens and that’s all we can do, is just open dialogue.”
Manzoor said members have also been reaching out to their fellow Rhode Islanders.
“We’ve been opening up our mosques for open houses, and we’ve been doing interfaith events, and we’ve just been trying to welcome everyone from the public to come and see what we’re all about, what our religion is all about, what kind of people we are,” said Manzoor. “We’re just normal everyday citizens like everyone else.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for federal and state authorities to classify the graffiti as a hate crime. The civil rights group cited media reports about terrorism and political rhetoric as fuel for hatred directed toward Muslims.
"Whenever you have an international attack which is ascribed to every person of the faith, or whenever you have American politicians basically throwing Muslims under the bus for political points then you’re going to have these kinds of incidents, unfortunately, where a few rogue people decide to commit acts of violence in this way," said John Robbins, executive director of CAIR in Massachusetts.
The Rhode Island Interfaith Council plans to hold a vigil Saturday at the Kingston mosque against all forms of violence.
"As we have responded to these things in the past, we will respond together," said Rev. Don Anderson, from the Rhode Island Council of Churches. "When something like this horrible, horrible event happens we respond and stand in solidarity together."