A message of peace the graffiti can’t deface (COMMENTARY)

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"Jesus" spray-painted on the gate outside of Baitus Salaam mosque in Hawthorne, Calif. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, MuslimsForPeace.org

"Jesus" spray-painted on the gate outside of Baitus Salaam mosque in Hawthorne, Calif. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, MuslimsForPeace.org

COVINA, Calif. (RNS) It was a Sunday that started off like most — a mad rush to get breakfast on the table, get the kids dressed and head to our mosque.

Dec. 13 was supposed to be a special day to honor the San Bernardino massacre victims at Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Los Angeles center since 1987. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — Muslims who believe in the messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad — is a thriving Muslim organization with roots in America since 1920 and in Southern California since 1970. This mosque hosted a blood drive to honor the victims and their families, with scores of neighbors, members of Congress and interfaith leaders attending.

But some 40 miles away at our community’s sister mosque in Hawthorne — Baitus Salaam (literally, “House of Peace”) — worshippers awoke to a different reality: a fake hand grenade on the mosque’s driveway, crosses in graffiti on its windows, and the word “Jesus” plastered on its gate. This had been my mosque and sanctuary — for almost a decade when we lived in Los Angeles.


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Baitus Salaam mosque in Hawthorne, Calif., with crosses spray painted on the exterior windows. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, MuslimsForPeace.org

Baitus Salaam mosque in Hawthorne, Calif., with crosses spray painted on the exterior windows. Photo courtesy of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, MuslimsForPeace.org

My family and I spent countless hours worshipping in a very modest and plain commercial building on Prairie Avenue amidst a vibrant, diverse and sprawling neighborhood. My husband and I served on the mosque’s advisory boards, and our son crawled on the carpet and played with his toys in the prayer hall. Though we moved from Los Angeles, we view Baitus Salaam as an extension of our family and home.

Ironies abound.

First, the timing. In Chino, our thoughts and prayers were with the victims and families of the San Bernardino tragedy, and our day of service consisted of a community blood drive at our mosque with a simple message to counter the ideology of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik: the only blood Muslims should shed is to save lives not take lives. Yet miles away at our sister mosque in Hawthorne at the same time, their day consisted of filing police and FBI reports and securing worshippers in the face of a fake grenade.


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Second, the vandalism. It consisted of crosses and the word “Jesus” spray-painted on a mosque with large outdoor signs that bear the phrase “Muslims for Peace” in English and Spanish. There could not have been a more un-Christ-like act committed than spray-painting his name in a hope to elicit fear. After all, one cannot deface a house of peace in the name of a prince of peace. And if the graffiti did not drip with irony, the fake grenade surely did. It was an object of provocation in the name of a prophet who promoted compassion, peace, and turning the other cheek.

Third, the ignorance. Nothing could be less offensive to the congregants of Baitus Salaam than the name of a beloved prophet of God spray painted on a mosque — especially since the Quran reveres Jesus and his mother Mary in countless passages. It is quite possible that the beloved name of Jesus — and expressions of love for him — have been uttered inside this mosque as often as some churches in Southern California. Defacing an Ahmadiyya mosque meant the perpetrator did not know that our spiritual leader,  His Holiness Khalifa of Islam Mirza Masroor Ahmad, courageously risks his life by advocating for a total rejection of any and all forms of terrorism and violent extremism.


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Yet despite these ironies, there is a wider message that is stronger and more enduring than the brick and mortar of Baitus Salaam — sometimes, the ultimate effect of a hate crime is to propel a message of love. Twenty-four hours after the acts of vandalism, the image of Jesus’ name plastered under “Muslims for Peace” leaves an indelible mark: Christians and Muslims (and indeed, people of all faiths) are bound together not by the acts of a few depraved individuals who claim the mantle of religion for nefarious ends, but by the profound and timeless wisdom of the founders of their faiths.

On Friday, Baitus Salaam once again did what it has done for two decades: It opened its doors to non-Muslims to learn more about Islam and proudly display its official motto: “Love for all; hatred for none.” Said one Christian passerby who attended the open house: “There is a warmth inside these doors, and this brand of Islam needs to be heard.” Indeed, this brand of Islam will be on display at our community’s 30th annual West Coast convention in Chino on December 25-27, were we plan to have 1,500 delegates, neighbors, interfaith leaders, members of law enforcement and members of Congress to stand in solidarity with the victims and families of the San Bernardino massacre.

After what happened at our mosque, a photograph of the vandalism went viral on social media and the response was thousands of messages of solidarity and comfort. That’s a terrible return on investment for the hatemongers.

(Saddia Ahmad Khan is deputy spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community)

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  • Susan Hepburn

    I am so VERY sorry to hear about these acts of vandalism and heartened by the positive acts of your own community. I am a British Christian and wish you peace and blessings. We must all work together to counter, peacefully, the Islamaphobia and hatred being stirred up in our countries by politicians and media.

    In friendship,

    Susan

  • Debbo

    I’d like to echo Ms. Hepburn’s words. I’m a white woman living in Minneapolis with many wonder Muslim neighbors. The defacing of their mosque was a shameful act.

  • Michael Potvin-Frost

    Thank you for all you do!. I know that love and peace can prevail and I pray, as a Christian, that all religions will stop demonizing each other and realize that we all seek to be united with our God.