A chapter in the saga of the Victoria Islamic Center has come to a close.
A federal court found the man suspected of setting the center on fire last year, Marq Vincent Perez, guilty on all counts, including hate crime charges.
Among those pleased with the verdict is Dr. Shahid Hashmi, president of the Victoria Islamic Center and its founding member. He and fellow congregants Abe Ajrami and Omar Rachid stood together that January night in 2017, and watched as their mosque burned down.
“Really seeing the entire structure on fire, it devastates you,” Rachid says. “It’s a house of worship, it’s a house of God and I can’t find any reason how godly a person can be to really burn a house of God – regardless what religion it belongs to.”
Ajrami was put in charge of collecting the mail that poured in from the public after word of the tragedy spread. The post office had to increase the number of mailboxes dedicated to the Victoria Islamic Center due to such a high volume of incoming letters, postcards and donations.
“Some of it was really powerful. We were in tears,” Ajrami says. “That gave us assurance and hope that we are part of this American fabric – that we are safe, we are supported.”
Following the guilty verdict, congregation members expressed a sense of relief and reassurance within their community. But the scar of the hate crime remains ever-present in the minds as they rebuild what was taken from them.
“Yes, you can say that justice is served,” Hashmi says. “We just hope and pray that by this punishment that … he learns his lesson and clears his heart of hate towards us.”
Listen to the audio player above for more with Hashmi, Rachid and Ajrami.
Written by Sarah Yoakley.