Written by Anthony Moujaes
Park Congregational United Church of Christ in Toledo, Ohio, has stood in solidarity with Muslim brothers and sisters for more than a decade, since 9/11. On Sunday, the congregation will once again join its Muslim neighbors in support, after an arsonist set fire to the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
"Eleven years ago we pledged to be good neighbors," the church's senior pastor, the Rev. Ed Heilman, said. At that time Park Congregational became part of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, an organization with Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu participants whose interfaith work has continued for more than a decade.
Park Congregational members will participate in a 2 p.m. service on Sunday, Oct. 7 at the Islamic Center. The service will likely take place outdoors because the building is uninhabitable. It will take about three months to repair the damage, said Mahjabeen Islam, president of the Islamic Center. At the interfaith service, Heilman hopes to do something beyond prayers for healing and expressing vocal support to the Muslim community in Northwest Ohio. "What I'm hoping will be different is to make a cash donation of some kind," he said. "I'll encourage others to do the same."
In a statement about Sunday's interfaith worship, the Islamic Center said "[a]n attack on one house of worship is akin to an attack on all. Our wounds will (God-willing) heal with the love and compassion of our friends and neighbors of all faiths."
This wasn't the first time the Islamic Center in Toledo was the target of vandalism. In 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the center's windows were shot out. In response at that time, Heilman said thousands of people showed up at an event to place their hands on the mosque as the community sought to heal together.
A white, middle-aged man has been charged with arson for setting the Sunday, Sept. 30 fire. Police say he allegedly poured gasoline in the center of the main floor where men worship. Sprinklers quickly put out the flames, but the amount of water has damaged the building.
Every religious community in the area has done something to speak out against the act, Heilman said. "We don't know the motives of [the suspect]… I do know it was a bad thing. We're ready to show our neighbors we love them."
There's also a national response from planned by Sojourners, a Washington, D.C.-based Christian coalition, involving an advertising campaign. The organization said it will erect a billboard near the mosque that reads "Love Your Muslim Neighbors."