Hundreds attend vigil to show solidarity at mosque after fire

Hundreds attend vigil to show solidarity at mosque after fire »Play Video
People from many faiths gathered Tuesday night outside the mosque in Corvallis that was hit by a suspected arsonist, possibly out of retaliation for the foiled bomb plot in Portland last Friday, to show that the events of the last week were not a reflection of the community.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - People of all faiths surrounded a local mosque Tuesday night to stand up against an arson attack that was possibly retaliation for the foiled bomb plot in Portland last Friday.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, who is accused of plotting to blow up a van next to Pioneer Courthouse Square during the Christmas tree lighting, sometimes attended the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center.

Side by side, hundreds of Christians, Jews and Muslims tolerated the rain to stand together outside the mosque.

“We’re here together to shine light toward our Muslim brothers and sisters and say our light and your light are here together,” said Benjamin Barnett, a rabbi.

Elizabeth Oettinger, senior minister of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, said a number of religious leaders organized the event to show support for the Muslim community.

"We wanted to surround it in fire and light in solidarity and friendship," she said.

Brooke Collison and his wife Joan, who are members of the United Methodist Church, said they didn’t hesitate to go to the vigil.

“We needed to show support that was an isolated incident and not a reflection of the city they are in,” Brooke Collison said.

The fire torched the office of the mosque and police say someone broke an office window and threw a container of flammable liquid inside. There’s a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person responsible.

For members, it’s not about the property, but the damage to their sense of belonging and a renewed undercurrent of concern.

“In the most strongest terms, we all abhor any act of violence against anyone,” said Mohammed Siala, the center’s administrator. He said members have already forgiven whomever set the fire.

"We forgive him or forgave them, not because (we are) outnumbered or because we are weak, but with your support here tonight and standing by your side, we tell them that there is no place for prejudice toward anybody, regardless of the faith or race or nationality," he said.

“(The) person who did this to the mosque and that person who did this in Portland doesn’t represent the whole community as Muslims and Americans,” said Hassan Armutawa, a Muslim.

While local Muslims have felt the burn of hatred and Islamaphobia before, they said the light from Tuesday’s vigil outshines the hate.

“We stand here caring for each other, loving each other,” Siala said. “If we can do it here in this small city then we can do it anywhere in the world.”

Members of the mosque said they were deeply touched and thank members of the community for attending.

Jeff Barnard of the Associated Press contributed to this report.