FL: FROM ASHES, FAITHS UNITE
Before someone set fire to the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, Dr. Akram J. Al-Asdi felt isolated, certain that many Americans viewed Muslims negatively.
But as word of the April fire spread, so too did the generosity of strangers.
In the mosque's sleepy Town 'N County neighborhood, residents stopped by to offer support. And to Al-Asdi's surprise, many people, Muslim and non-Muslim, gave financial donations intended to help the Islamic community rebuild.
Much work remains, but Al-Asdi feels encouraged.
"You feel their love and support," said Al-Asdi, 57, a retired pediatric surgeon and the center's chairman. "Of course, there is hatred. But I believe our community is good, our neighborhood is excellent and our nation is excellent."
Al-Asdi watched Thursday morning as contractors removed the charred ceiling from a concrete-block worship center still covered with soot and heavy with the stench of smoke. Mosque officials estimate that it will cost at least $50, 000 to restore the center, which an arsonist set ablaze in April after breaking a window in the main prayer hall and pouring gasoline inside. The building was uninsured, Al-Asdi said.
The FBI continues to investigate, said spokeswoman Sara Oates.
So far, the center has $20, 000 to rebuild, with most donations coming from individual Muslim donors and other Islamic centers around the state. Christian churches also are among the center's largest contributors, Al-Asdi said.
The Rev. Robert Gibbons, pastor of St. Paul's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg, asked his parishioners to contribute shortly after learning about the fire. In the fall, bay area Muslims donated $5, 000 to help restore churches in the West Bank and Gaza that were burned by Muslims in the wake of a controversial speech by Pope Benedict XVI. The local Muslims asked Gibbons, who was then vicar general of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, to help ensure their funds made it into the right hands.
"Our parishioners were so impressed and touched back in September by the warm outreach that we received from the Islamic community in Tampa, they were happy to be involved in this," said Gibbons, noting that his parish collected $1, 500 for the Islamic center.