“It’s like a load coming off your shoulders. A big stage of this whole ordeal is finished,” comments Abe Ajrami, a board member of the Victoria Islamic Center which was sadly the scene of an arson that devastated the local Muslim community on Jan. 28, 2017. Last week a federal jury found Marq Vincent Perez, 26, guilty of a hate crime in the arson attack. He faces up to 40 years in prison.
The Houston Chronicle reports that many in Victoria’s congregation of 45 families remain traumatized. “Some members who dropped out of sight after the fire have not returned to worship. Some women have not resumed wearing the hijab, the headdress that marks them as Muslim, in public. And throughout the congregation, a sense of wary anxiety lingers.”
“It’s like the church shooting in Sutherland Springs,” says Mr. Ajrami, 50, who was born in Gaza. “These memories can haunt us. It happened once. Who can say it won’t happen again.”
According to the Chronicle: “From the day their mosque burned, Muslim leaders here kept to the high road. They avoided calling it an act of arson or a hate crime. They didn’t claim to be victims. At an interfaith prayer service held soon after the fire, other Victoria-area religious leaders stood shoulder to shoulder with the Muslims…. Later, after Perez was charged, some in the [congregation] prayed for him, that his hate would be replaced by love.”
“Victoria is not looked at as the city that burned a Muslim church, it’s looked at as the city that came together,” comments Mr. Arjami. “It give me hope that the new generation, my kids, will understand that there are things to unite us.”