TITUSVILLE, Fla. — Detectives arrested a Titusville man late Monday (Jan. 4), accusing him of vandalizing a mosque and placing bacon in its front door.
Evidence indicated that Michael Scott Wolfe, 35, entered the carport of the Islamic Society of Central Florida Masjid Al-Munin around 11 p.m. New Year’s Day, Titusville police said.
He is accused of slashing his way through the mosque, shattering lights, windows and cameras with a machete. Wolfe was charged with criminal mischief to a mosque, a third-degree felony.
Wolfe is being held Brevard County Jail on a $2,000 bail. He is expected to appear before a judge Tuesday.
Before the arrest, the leader of the mosque said the vandalism was not typical of this area that Muslims call home.
“You can’t help but feel this is a hateful act (because of) all of the negative media, the politicians who want to ban Muslims, close mosques,” said Muhammad Musri, who is based in the Orlando area and who oversees a network of 10 mosques as part of the Islamic Society of Central Brevard. “Messages like that motivate people who have an illness in their heart.”
Musri, who in public comments has called on Muslims to build stronger ties with the communities they live in, was at the Titusville mosque overseeing its cleanup.
“We’ve been in this community for so many years. This is a great community and this act is not typical of the good people or the city,” he said. “So I am hopeful. Over 40 years that we’ve been here, we’ve never seen anything like this.”
Eating pork — including bacon and ham — is prohibited in the Quran. The Bible’s Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy also forbid it.
Civil-rights advocates are calling on state and federal authorities to investigate.
“People are afraid to take their children back to the mosque. … A machete was used,” said Rasha Mubarak, the Orlando regional coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “They know we don’t consume pork. This is something that those who are Islamaphobic tend to bring up or use.”
Leaving bacon at the mosque indicates bias, the advocacy group’s officials said. Since the civil-rights group began collecting data in 2009, it has recorded more than 70 threats and acts of vandalism against mosques nationwide.
It was not immediately clear if Titusville police were looking at the incident as a hate crime, a classification of charges that would require an increase in penalties upon conviction. Musri, who over the years has had a number of outreach programs and conducted interfaith efforts, was in touch with the FBI, which investigates bias-related crimes.
The break-in happened about late Friday but was reported to police about 6 a.m. Saturday when it was opened for prayers. It is one of four mosques in Brevard County and has 30 to 40 people who attend services.
The break-in comes amid a recent spike of vandalism reports at mosques nationwide, from a pig’s head left at a mosque in Philadelphia to bacon at an Islamic worship center in Las Vegas.
The Rev. Glenn Dames of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Titusville condemned the incident.
“I was very surprised but also disheartened that this happened here. This was mean-spirited,” said Dames, president of the North Brevard Ministerial Alliance. “We’re above that.”
The mosque, whose name in Arabic means “Guardian of the Faithful,” is part of a network of mosques providing worship services for more than 40,000 Muslims across Central Florida. It opened in 1999.
In 2006, someone fired a gunshot at the Islamic Society of Melbourne mosque in south Melbourne, Fla. No one was injured in that incident. The FBI investigated the shooting and found a sniper’s nest and clothes set up across the street from the mosque, but no arrests were made.
Musri said the physical damage left behind at the Titusville mosque will be repaired.
“The psychological damage will be lasting,” he said.
(J.D. Gallop reported this story for Florida Today)