On a normal Thursday evening, Central District resident Sophie Glass would go to her yoga sculpt class at the YMCA. But on Feb. 23, she decided to skip her workout and stopped by The Summit, where the Capitol Hill Community Council hosted a neighborhood social to raise funds for the Islamic Center of Eastside (ICOE.)
In the early morning of Jan. 14, Isaac Wayne Wilson, a 37-year-old white man with mental illness, allegedly set the ICOE’s Bellevue mosque on fire, destroying it. Bellevue Police say Wilson did not commit a hate crime.
Although it will move somewhere else in the future, ICOE is now trying to decide whether to repair or to rebuild the 6,000-square-foot structure. Whatever the decision the center makes, the Capitol Hill Community Council wants to help them make it happen.
“I’ve been feeling that my response to intolerance from the Trump administration has been very individual, like I’d write an email to my senator at night or I’d make a donation to the mosque,” Glass said. “But I felt that I haven’t been in a community setting, where there’s actually conversation, dialogue and those ties that you can’t get online and that you can’t get individually. Events like this is a way to build relationships.”
ICOE Elders Council member and guest speaker Arshad Ahmad said Seattle’s Muslims felt a bit of fear and uncertainty due to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. He also said he knows Muslims in the Emerald City with relatives and friends that had planned to visit them from countries directly affected by Trump’s now-restrained executive order, but were unable.
“Obviously, it’s not the best thing that could have happened,” Ahmad said, as the roughly 40 attendants ate pita bread with hummus, roast cauliflower and sarma provided by Capitol Hill’s Mamnoon. “But at the same time, on the Eastside, we have received lots of support, especially from people who have been working at technology firms and companies.”
Seeing the great support of the community is, for Ahmad, the bright side of what happened at the mosque Jan. 17.
“At the end of the day, you say, ‘Yes, it was a tragedy,’ but you have to look beyond that,” he said. “What has come up out of it is the unity of the community and the feeling of being part of Seattle and the state of Washington; that’s priceless. It has been great for us, and it helped us overcome our grievances and move forward.”
Glass’ husband, Jonah Fruchter, praised Ahmad’ speech, agreeing the fire at ICOE’s mosque has a silver lining.
“I really liked when he talked about turning this tragedy into a positive outcome,” Fruchter said. “Because of this tragic event, he said he’s actually seen more community happening, more people coming together. That was a very wise and positive perspective.”
Ellie VerGowe, a First Covenant Church worker, said she had been looking for ways to support her Muslim neighbors since the fire in Bellevue, and she felt the social was the perfect opportunity to meet neighbors and support the Muslim community.
“When I learned about the fire, I felt sadness and anger,” VerGowe said. “It’s not okay for people’s places of worship to be desecrated like that. Places of worship are safe spaces, are home, are places for people to worship God. Attacking them is not right.”
At the end of the evening, the Capitol Hill Community Council raised $750.
“It was important for our community to be in solidarity with our Muslim neighbors and friends who have been the targets of more attacks in the weeks since the inauguration,” wrote CHCC president Zachary DeWolf in a statement. “So, in the words of Karl Hess, ‘the most revolutionary thing you can do is get to know your neighbors.’ We wanted to start those conversations and get to know more of our neighbors.”