“Nothing like this has ever happened to us before, even after 9/11,” said Ehsan Ahmed, a director of the Islamic Center of Harrisonburg mosque and an economics professor at nearby James Madison University. “We have always been welcomed here, and we participate in many community activities. We can’t say what their motive was, but the timing is very coincidental.”
On Saturday morning, members of the Dar al Hijrah Mosque in Falls Church emerged from an early prayer service to find that someone had smashed the windows of about 30 cars parked on neighborhood streets. No written slogans were left, but mosque officials initially thought the vandalism was directed at them.
Later in the afternoon, a Fairfax County police spokeswoman said the incident was a “random act of vandalism” that was scattered over a widespread area and that “the mosque was not at all the target.”
Over the past several days, Muslim leaders in the Washington area and across the nation have rushed to denounce the vulgar video and the anti-American violence it has provoked.
American Muslim immigrants have taken the furor in stride, saying they refuse to be provoked or exploited by extremist forces on either side.
In Harrisonburg, members of the vandalized mosque said they were immediately bolstered by sympathetic support from the community. A city council member hastily set up a Web site called “We are all Harrisonburg” and invited residents to attend a solidarity meeting at the mosque Sunday. More than 500 people signed up.
“This incident has given people an opportunity to reach out and get to know their neighbors, to build something positive from it,” said Kai Degner, the council member and a real estate agent. “Our city is growing and changing and becoming more diverse, with 57 languages in our schools. Change can require adjustment, but we have had no horror stories here.”
Mohammed Aslam Afridi, a Pakistani-born veterinarian who is president of the mosque, said he was sure the graffiti was connected to recent events elsewhere. “This anti-Islamic video has stirred people up, and so has the attack on the Sikh temple in Wisconsin,” he said. “People are angry and upset. But we are all children of Adam. This is my Harrisonburg, my Virginia and my country.”