MOORHEAD — The atmosphere was jubilant Monday, April 26, after nearly 400 people came to help the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center clean up after the mosque was vandalized over the weekend.
So many people showed up with cleaning supplies, including pressure washers, chemicals and scrub brushes, that many had to wait on the sidelines for a chance to help. The volunteers mingled from the lawn to tables with pizza, doughnuts, bottled water and soft drinks, to discuss the hate speech that an unidentified person spray-painted on the mosque late Saturday.
Phrases such as “Death to Islam” and women "can’t vote," along with racial slurs, were removed from the mosque in less than two hours Monday.
The Moorhead Police Department is working with the FBI to investigate the vandalism. Although authorities did not give an update on the investigation Monday, Moorhead police called the act of vandalism "hate messages directed towards the Islamic faith," on Sunday.
Cani Adan, chairman of the Moorhead Human Rights Commission said, “It is an ugly incident, but it has united us.”
Matuor Alier, chairman of the Fargo Human Relations Commission, said he was impressed with the community’s response to the vandalism. “To see the possibility of the community. They showed up faster than we thought. This is how we should respond to the negative things in the community,” Alier said.
Otoo Haarun, president of the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center, offered a prayer in Arabic before the cleanup began.
“This makes us feel at home and we are at home,” Haarun said. “The person who did this is in the minority, he is not even close to representing the majority. We are just as American as anyone around, we have families, we have kids, we play soccer, of course, and we even play football."
“For those of you who left their jobs, their families, their schools, may God bless you,” Haarun said, thanking the hundreds who came to help.
Moorhead Mayor Shelly Carlson came to the mosque on Sunday and Monday to show the city’s support.
“I don’t even have the words to describe the overwhelming emotion I had seeing you all come here today,” Carlson said. “This does not divide our community.”
Jaylani Hussein, executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-Minnesota, a civil rights and advocacy organization, said the vandalism represented a threat against all places of worship.
“We outnumber the voice of darkness,” Hussein said. “This country is a bedrock for the freedom of religion, and this is the beginning of prolonged interaction with the Muslim community, and we will continue to demand accountability for this.”
People of various religions came to show their support for the mosque, including Grant Vanderford, pastor at Bethesda Lutheran Church in Moorhead.
“My faith teaches that every human contains the goodness of God,” Vanderford said. “It’s a tragedy when we refuse to see the humanity of another person, particularly those with a different skin color or those who don’t practice the same religion.”
People of different cultures sharing a meal or conversation can help them better understand each other, he said.
"We’re sitting around the table with people who look like us way too often," Vanderford said. “Little steps by a lot of people make a big difference."
Hamida Dakane, who sometimes attends prayers at the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center, came to the mosque to help with the cleanup effort.
“It was very scary, and the response, we were not expecting this,” Dakane said. “People are here to support and every faith has the right to practice.”
Leslie Brown, store director of the Moorhead Target store, brought supplies to help with the cleanup effort. “We have a group of team members that care about the community and inclusion, and this is the opposite of what we stand for at our stores,” Brown said.
Alan “Bacon” Dewald runs Express Carpet Cleaners, and he brought his van with a high-powered pressure washer that he parked at the rear of the mosque.
“For me, don’t take someone’s hope away, whether it’s a mosque or a church. We’re not so different. At some point someone has to say not on my watch,” Dewald said. “If you ever thought as a group of people nobody likes us, well, at least 300 do, and that’s enough.”
Dennis Kooren, an area resident, said he has a second home in Indonesia and he came to support the cleanup effort because once Muslim friends stood between his family and the Taliban, saving him. “That is what true Islam is, that is what we’re seeing here,” Kooren said.
The Islamic Center so far has raised more than $47,977 through a GoFundMe page to help with building improvements, including security.
Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, issued a statement about the vandalism at the mosque, asking state legislators to expand and update hate crime laws.
“These threatening and racist messages are part of a longstanding wave of hate and violence directed at people of color," said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at Muslim Advocates. "This hate is real and it is part of a larger, more dangerous reality for Muslims around the country.”