VICTORIA, Texas — Steps away from the rubble of their mosque, members of the Islamic Center of Victoria, Texas, prayed by flashlight in a portable building—without electricity or water.
The mosque burned to the ground in the early morning hours of Jan. 28, hours after President Donald Trump issued a travel ban against seven Muslim-majority countries. Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the blaze.
Abe Ajrami, a board member of the Islamic Center, said the city’s mayor and police chief have been incredibly supportive. As worshippers prayed by flashlight, the chief sent officers to the area for protection.
Governor Greg Abbott and President Trump, on the other hand, have remained notably silent on the mosque fire.
“It would be a nice gesture if [Abbott] would call and ask what he could do,” Ajrami said. “But the local government has been absolutely phenomenal.”
Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump, who this week used Twitter to defend his travel ban, decry protests over an alt-right leader at Berkeley that turned violent, claim he would get tough on Iran, and say the United States needs to “get smart” following a stabbing outside the Louvre in Paris on Friday, has said nothing in the name of religious freedom when it comes to those who practice Islam.
When it came to the attack on a mosque in Quebec City, Canada—allegedly carried out by a white nationalist who has reportedly expressed support for Trump—the president’s silence continued. While Trump shared his condolences for the victims of the attack in a phone call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the most the White House has said is that the attack proves Trump’s hawkish stance on national security is necessary. (The White House didn’t release a statement, either.)
“It’s a terrible reminder of why we must remain vigilant, and why the president is taking steps to be proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to our nation’s safety and security,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a Jan. 30 briefing.
Yet Trump’s rhetoric and actions have exclusively targeted Muslims, and the White House will reportedly remove white supremacists from the Obama-era Countering Violent Extremism program and focus it solely on Islamic extremism.
The events in Victoria are a reminder that when tragedies hit communities, it is mostly the communities themselves that pick themselves up and carry on. It has been Victorians and supporters from across the country and around the world who have raised more than $1 million in a week as Trump and Abbott said—and did—nothing.
Ajrami holds out hope that the fire wasn’t an act of terror or intimidation.
“We hope we get this call that the fire was electric,” he said. “We’ll leave this up to law enforcement now.”
The mosque was built in 2000 after two Pakistanis, a doctor and an engineer, came to Victoria, for work, Ajrami said. Membership ranges between 100-130 people, fluctuating in part because of work available in nearby oil fields—one of the area’s largest economic drivers.
Ajrami noted that it was all faiths that came to the aid of the Islamic Center, including Unitarians, Catholics, Jews, and Lutherans. And personifying the interfaith effort is Sharif Rachid, an Army veteran and a native Victorian whose father is Muslim and mother is Lutheran.
Rachid said he wasn’t surprised by the community’s support. His father, Omar, created a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $850,000. As of Saturday, the page had received donations in excess of $1.1 million from more than 23,000 people.
“This is a tolerant town,” Rachid said. “This is one of the safest places for me, and I go by my name, Sharif.”
While Victoria waits for a cause of the fire, members of the mosque are moving forward with plans to rebuild. Demolition crews were on site Friday afternoon, bulldozing the rubble, dumping the mosque’s guts into two large dumpsters. Ajrami said the new mosque will incorporate the golden domes salvaged from the fire—they laid near one of two remaining walls of the building, dented and blackened.
“You can react or you can act,” Ajrami said on Friday. The electricity had just been turned on in the building next door to the mosque that served as the morning’s flashlight-lit prayer site. Water now flows from the faucets there, too.
“We chose to act.”