“The thousands of messages, prayers, and donations from all over the globe have been phenomenal,” mosque officials added.
According to the Victoria Advocate, crews responded to the Islamic center at about 2 a.m. Saturday. A gas station clerk told the newspaper that he called emergency responders after he spotted the smoke and the fire from the blaze, the cause of which is not yet known.
“It’s sad to stand there and watch it collapse down, and the fire was so huge,” the mosque’s president, Shahid Hashmi, said, according to the Associated Press. “It looks completely destroyed.”
Officials are still working to determine the cause of the fire, according to the Advocate, which reported that the investigation process could take some time.
“Investigating fires is really, really tough,” Victoria Fire Chief Taner Drake told the newspaper. Victoria is about 115 miles from San Antonio.
Fire Marshal Tom Legler also cautioned against a rush to judgment, the Advocate reported.
But the Texas office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged investigators “to keep the possibility of a bias motive for this fire in mind,” citing “growing anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation, and … the recent spike in hate incidents targeting Islamic institutions and individuals.”
Whatever the cause, the blaze came amid a rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric, behavior and vandalism in the United States. In November, The Washington Post wrote that U.S. law enforcement agencies had reported more than 200 anti-Muslim incidents in 2015. That was an increase of more than 60 percent from the year before.
The fire also came amid a heated debate about President Trump’s executive order temporarily shutting U.S. borders to refugees and migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. The order — signed Friday — sparked confusion and led to heated protests in airports across the country.
And Sunday night in Canada, six people were killed and several others wounded during a shooting at a mosque, which occurred as worshipers were finishing their prayers. Police haven’t provided any motives in the shooting in suburban Quebec City, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called it a terrorist attack on “a group of innocents targeted for practicing their faith.”
Here’s what the AP reported on the Victoria investigation Saturday:
Victoria Fire Marshal Tom Legler asked for help from the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine what caused the blaze. Hashmi said authorities have told him it was too early to speculate.“None whatsoever right now,” the center director said. “We don’t have any lead or information as to what started the fire and what happened. So I’m sure it’s going to be a few days, they told us, before they can come up with any answers for us.”
The GoFundMe page, “Victoria Islamic Center Rebuilding,” was created Saturday.
“I wish I could contribute more!” read one donor comment. “I am so sorry this happened to your mosque.”
Said another: “My family and I are so sorry this has happened to your mosque; this is both tragic and shameful (if someone set the fire). It is senseless and we send prayers and best wishes for you all.”
More than 18,000 people had donated by Monday, and the campaign had already surpassed its goal of $850,000.
“Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the tremendous support we’ve received. The outpouring of love, kind words, hugs, helping hands and the financial contributions are examples of the true American spirit,” the fundraising page stated. “We’re so very much thankful and appreciative of everyone’s thoughtfulness.”
On Sunday, hundreds also turned out in the community for a prayer rally, which was held outside the destroyed center. Among those who spoke was Gary Branfman, a member of Temple B’nai Israel, according to the Advocate.
“Whether this was a kitchen fire, short circuit or a psychopath, the result of the spark is not what stands behind me,” Branfman said, a reference to the destroyed mosque. “It’s what stands before me.”