A Day Of Thanks: Victoria Community Celebrates Completion Of New Mosque

An arsonist burned down the Victoria Islamic Center nearly a year and-a-half ago. The town was determined to rebuild.

By Jill AmentOctober 2, 2018 10:15 am| ,

Dr. Shahid Hashmi, a Pakistani immigrant, is president of the Victoria Islamic Center. He’s one of the founders of the center and spearheaded efforts to build the original mosque back in 2000. Many of Hashmi’s longtime friends were there on Saturday to congratulate him on the completion of the new building, including a local real estate agent, Shirley Buckert.

“She helped me buy this lot. Buy the land. She’s the one,” Hashmi says.

“Yes, my friend, my friend. It was just grass,” Buckert tells him.

“In 1995 we bought it, just grass. So, in 1995 we bought it and by 2000 we built the old one. It burned down in 2017 and now new one is here in 2018,” Hashmi says.

“Makes me very proud, thank you,” Buckert says.

Jill Ament/Texas Standard

The Islamic Center's Imam, Osama Salah Hassan, greets a community member during the reopening Saturday.

Buckert was one of hundreds at Saturday’s event who provided words of encouragement, accompanied by smiles, hugs and handshakes, to the members of the Victoria Islamic Center. Hashmi says the community’s support has been key in rebuilding the new mosque.

“It’s really here to appreciate the community, who went behind us from the very first day. Just hours after the tragedy happened. And now they’re really here to help celebrate the good days,” Hashmi says.

Omar Rachid has been a member of the Victoria Islamic Center since 1994. Immediately following the mosque fire, he created a GoFundMe page. People from all over the world donated a little more than $1 million to rebuild the new structure. He says without those donations, this new mosque wouldn’t have been possible.

“As I reflect on the last 17 months, what was really significant and incredibly gratifying is … people’s love. You know, almost every single donation came with words of support. People identifying themselves, whether they are Jew, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics. But they really wanted to express their love,” Rachid says.

As those in attendance gather to take a peek inside, Hashmi’s daughter, Arooj Qureshi, and granddaughter, Safiya, excitedly, proudly, give tours. Qureshi points out several touches she likes about the new mosque: three marble slabs of granite with Arabic script were salvaged from the rubble of the old mosque. They now sit atop the entrance of the new one. In the foyer, on the ceiling, a sparkling chandelier hangs from the middle of a crescent moon. In a large community hall in the back of the mosque, Qureshi shows a display with hundreds of cards and letters of support from all over the world. Outside the hall, a prayer garden encircles a dome from the old mosque.

“I’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the support and love, and just feeling like, Okay we can do this, it’s not so hopeless. I was heartbroken, and then I wasn’t so hopeless,” Qureshi says.

For Qureshi’s daughter, Safiya, the past year and a half has been difficult but also a learning experience.

“Like, non-Muslims and Muslims, together, can come together. When something’s bad and everyone stands as one, it makes it even better,” Safiya says.

James Dement is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Victoria. He was one of many interfaith leaders at the welcoming ceremony and open house. He says he hopes the show of support for the Muslim community in Victoria can provide a learning opportunity for the nation.

“I think it’s just, sometimes people forget about the small communities, or they dismiss the rural areas. But it was a community like this that could best demonstrate interfaith unity. Good neighbors, love your neighbor. Boy, you saw that here,” Dement says.

For leaders of the Victoria Islamic Center, the new mosque is not only a testament to their faith, but they hope moving forward, it can always be a symbol in their town of how love can overcome hate.