Supporters have donated over $1 million to help rebuild a Texas mosque that burned down on Saturday.
Three days after setting up a fundraising page online, leaders at the Victoria Islamic Center were shocked to see that they had already surpassed their previous goal of $850,000, thanks to donations from over 20,000 people.
Shahid Hashmi, the Islamic center’s president and a founding member of the congregation, told The Huffington Post that he hadn’t been expecting the flood of donations. By Wednesday afternoon, the GoFundMe page had raised over $1,038,880.
“I’m happily surprised...that they’ve raised so much so quickly,” Hashmi said.
The cause of the fire has not yet been determined, according to O.C. Garza, the City of Victoria, Texas’ communications director. Garza told The Huffington Post on Monday that all evidence has been collected from the site and the mosque has been handed back to the congregation for demolition and rebuilding. Local police, Texas’ Fire Marshal’s office, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the FBI are assisting with the investigation.
“Typically, it takes a minimum of weeks, and sometimes months, before we get the results back from a fire like this,” Garza told HuffPost in an email.
The fire comes amidst a time of increased anxiety for American Muslims, who have been victims of Islamophobic rhetoric and hate crimes over the past few years. Just one day earlier, President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting Muslim refugees and immigrants.
Hashmi said that he’s been part of the community since 1984. In the early years, members would meet in each others’ houses to pray. Then, they prayed in rental buildings. The most recent structure was built in 2000 and serves a congregation of about 140 people.
As someone who’s seen the congregation grow over the years, Hashmi said watching the worship space burn on Saturday was painful.
“You can imagine, it’s like your baby,” he said. “It’s like your own house.”
The mosque has been targeted before. On January 21, a burglar reportedly broke into the building and stole electronic equipment. In July 2013, a vandal painted spray-painted the word “H8,” short for “hate” outside the building.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is urging officials to keep the possibility of arson in mind.
“Because of growing anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation, and because of the recent spike in hate incidents targeting Islamic institutions and individuals, we urge investigators to keep the possibility of a bias motive for this fire in mind,” CAIR-Houston Executive Director Mustafaa Carroll told the AP.
In the meantime, community members have rallied around the mosque. The Victoria Islamic Center organized a public prayer service on Sunday. Religious leaders from the Unitarian Universalist, Presbyterian, and other traditions joined in to offer their own prayers.
In a Facebook post, the congregation said that the support has been “phenomenal.”
Hashmi said that he’s come to expect this outpouring of support from the interfaith community in Victoria.
It’s his faith that encourages him to keep moving forward.
“As a believer, in happy times you’re thankful to God and in hard times, you’re patient,” Hashmi said. “That’s the only way you’re going to survive.”
Update: This story and its headline have been updated to reflect the fact that donations to the mosque have exceeded $1 million.