Aug. 16, 2007 - Abdul Rahman's first reaction was disbelief. As the chairman of the Islamic Center of the East Bay walked through the charred walls and torched roof of his Antioch, Calif., mosque last Sunday, he couldn't comprehend how anyone would want to destroy it. But hours earlier, someone had done just that. Using children's Arabic books for kindling, the arsonist (or arsonists) had ignited four small fires. Only one caught, but that was enough to cause $200,000 in damage to the former dental office where up to 200 mostly Pakistani and Afghan Muslims met weekly for prayers and occasional potluck suppers and Islamic history quizzes. Who did this? Why? And, Rahman wonders, what is the now-homeless congregation going to do? "My heart was up to my neck in worries," he says. "I felt like somebody had died."
Arson inspectors are worried, too. Local police and fire investigators in this town 45 miles east of San Francisco say there's no doubt the fire was set deliberately. They say they have leads in the case, but have announced no suspect or motive. (Members of the Muslim community have offered a $10,000 reward.) Officials, assisted by the FBI, warn they have no evidence that the arson was a hate crime deliberately targeting the Muslim community. But the fire is the latest in a string of crimes at the mosque that includes gunshots and a recent attempted break-in. "People are very shook up about this," says Safaa Ibrahim, executive director for the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil-rights group. "It is a message of terrorism, be it to the Muslim community or to the greater community."