- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vandals ruined property around two Virginia Islamic centers within a day of each other, prompting an outpouring of community support amid worry that violent Middle East protests against an American film have incited a hateful knee-jerk reaction at home.

On Friday, vandals painted vulgar pictures and racial slurs on the outer walls of the Islamic Association of the Shenandoah Valley in Harrisonburg, Va., an incident association president Muhammad Aslam Afridi called shocking and unprecedented. In Falls Church, about 30 cars parked near the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center were damaged early Saturday morning.

“I was appalled to see that,” Mr. Afridi said. “In the last 13 or 14 years, we’ve never had a problem, never an incident like that.”

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In the last week, people in several Middle Eastern countries have protested an anti-Islamic movie made in the United States that portrays Muhammad, the founder of Islam, as a vulgar, tasteless character. Protests quickly escalated into violent riots that killed four American diplomats in Libya, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Mr. Afridi said that the video and other anti-Islamic content online may have spurred the vandalism.

Mr. Afridi said the paintings on the mosque included “profanity” and lines such as “This is America.”

The mosque has been a part of the Harrisonburg community since 1998, and in that time, Mr. Afridi said, it’s made a name for itself as a community outreach center that knows no color or religion.

“We host shelters for homeless people twice a year, we help the Blue Ridge-area food bank educational facilities like universities, schools, colleges and also churches,” Mr. Afridi said. “It’s a center for learning for people of all faiths. It’s not to convert anybody, just wellness.”

As the new week begins, Mr. Afridi said the center’s members are “nervous to see that has happened to our place, but they’re still going to come to the mosque and still practice their faith.”

The 62-year-old veterinarian, who’s been in the country for 37 years, said the center is going to continue “business as usual.”

“We welcome everyone in the community,” he said. “This is one nation, one people, not divided.”

In 2001, the community came out in solidarity for mosque members after the 9/11 attacks. On Sunday, hundreds did the same at an event organized by Kai Degner, a Harrisonburg council member.

The Facebook page for the event boasted dozens of well wishes for the Islamic association and denouncements of the vandalism, as well as a short video from Mr. Degner who said his hope for the community event was to create “something positive out of this unfortunate combination of incidents.”

About 15 miles from the mosque, Redeemer Classical School was also subjected to vandalism this weekend.

A Harrisonburg police spokesman said the vandalism at the small Christian school was similar in paint color and offensive content to what appeared on the mosque, but as of Sunday was not officially tied to the other defacement.

The school posted a statement on its Facebook page, calling the vandalism “cowardly and vulgar.”

While Harrisonburg gathered in solidarity, in Fairfax questions remained about why roughly three dozen cars parked in the neighborhood around the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center were damaged in the early hours of Saturday morning during a prayer meeting.

A neighbor who belongs to the mosque reported seeing no damage at 2:30 a.m., but according to a statement from the Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, some mosque-goers noticed broken glass near the entrance. They did not see the actual damage to the cars until leaving the mosque later in the morning.

The statement indicates that police are considering a late-night event at the J.E.B. Stuart High School — about a half-mile away on foot — as a possible source of the vandalism.

“Many in the community are making the assumption that they were targeted because they are part of the mosque community,” the statement said. “These cars clearly were not the intended target of larceny. Fairfax Police reported money on the seats and other valuables left untouched.”

Mr. Abdul-Malik said officials with the center are looking for an additional investigation to rule out a hate crime.

“We still have much to do in our community,” Mr. Abdul-Malik said. “Whether it is a hate crime or youth vandals we must work together to make this a better community.”

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