A small town in West Virginia responds to anti-Muslim sentiment

ISAR-WVA-mosqueBy Omar Ghabra, Al Jazeera America

PRINCETON, W.Va. -- On Dec. 16 of last year, Dr. Riaz Riaz drove from his home to his local mosque -- a humble building nestled among the quiet foothills of the Appalachian Mountains -- to perform his afternoon prayers. When he arrived at the Islamic Society of the Appalachian Region (ISAR) Center, he was shocked to find Islamophobic insults sprayed on the walls in bright red paint.

For Riaz and other members of this congregation, the incident brought back memories of a similar desecration that took place just after September 11, 2001. After the first incident, members of the Muslim community as well as the authorities felt the vandalism of the mosque clearly fit the definition of a hate crime. This time, however, Mercer County Sheriff Don Meadows told a local TV station the incident was not a hate crime because another act of vandalism had taken place nearby around the same date. (Multiple attempts to contact Meadows for comment on this story were unsuccessful.)

Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), disagrees with the sheriff's assessment. "This incident is absolutely a hate crime," he said. "You have people writing explicitly anti-Islam statements on a mosque. It's the definition of a hate crime." The federal government defines a hate crime as "a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation." The FBI is investigating the vandalism of the mosque as a hate crime. No suspects have been identified to date. (Read more)