The Islamic Society of New Tampa (ISONET) is an Islamic Place of Worship, also known as a Masjid or Mosque. ISONET was funded and built by local Muslim Americans, many who are doctors, business owners, and engineers. They built this place for Muslim people in the area to come together for prayer and attend family events. I consider ISONET my second home. It was the one Mosque in the vicinity of USF that was willing to host Tampa’s own chapter for “Young Muslims.” Kids from the age of 15-25 have been attending every Saturday since the beginning of 2017 to spend quality time with one another by having Islamic related discussions followed by activities such as basketball. ISONET has always been a welcoming place for everyone; it has always catered to everyone’s well being.
On February 24th, 2017, the Masjid was victim to a hate crime. At around 2:00 AM on that day, some hatemonger decided on attempting to burn the place down. He wasn’t successful thanks to the fireproof door that allowed minimal damage to occur.
Although physical damage was minimal, the ISONET community suffered damage to their sense of safety. Ever since this crime occurred, ISONET has imposed stricter rules, hired guards, and even has a curfew at 10:15 PM to have the entire place locked down.
Why did this hate crime occur? The people of ISONET have never done any wrong. The Masjid has only ever been used for people to pray together in peace. The simple fact that this place of worship is Islamic is what triggered the criminal to commit his heinous crime. The Masjid was stereotyped by this criminal to be every negative aspect the media has ever associated with the religion. Whether it be a shooting or any other violent act by a person who happened to be Muslim, people like the arsonist generalize all Muslims to share the same mentality with those extremists, even if Islam prohibits it.
“To be profiled as a hood, hoodlum, or a hoodie, a person doesn’t need to be a troublemaker or criminal. He doesn’t need to be wearing a hoodie. So long as he has an identity that somebody else criminalizes and dehumanizes, all he has to do is exist” (Kinney, 104).
This incident took me back to Kinney’s reading on “Hood.” Even though hoodies are typically worn by people of any background, people of color seem to receive the most stereotyping while wearing one. This is due to the actions of a few that have linked hoodies on people of color with crime. Likewise, even though the majority of people identify with a religion and pray at their respective holy places of worship, Masjids like ISONET have been generalized to breed extremist practices due to the abominable actions of a few.
When I visited the Masjid last Saturday night for YM (Young Muslims), one of the several programs hosted by ISONET, I noticed that the section towards the front of the Mosque still had no carpet, was missing baseboards, and had a charred wall.
Even though it’s been over two months since the arson, the damage is still present. The physical damage serves as vibrant matter that reflects all the hate and stereotyping still present in this country. It shows us that there are people out there who truly think Islam and its adherents are responsible for every illicit action done by someone who claims they are Muslim. The damage incites fear into innocent Muslims who feel that their safety is at risk because of their religion.
The rebuilding of the Masjid’s damage begins with society’s mindset on Muslims. A vigilance open to all was held on a Friday night following the arson and had great attendance. Local Jewish people pitched in $18 individually per day to help renovate some of the damages. Non-Muslim people even visited the Masjid and were greeted with politeness and respect.
“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” -Resie Waechter, a Gay Mon-Muslim American who had an outstanding experience with the people of ISONET.
Kinney, Alison. “HOOD.” (2016)
Bennett, Jane. “Vibrant Matter.” (2009): n. pag. Web.
Waechter, Resie. “What Happens When Two Gay Women Walk into the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay?” Creative Loafing: Tampa Bay. N.p., 07 Mar. 2017. Web. 01 May 2017.
CNN WIRE. “Fire at Florida Mosque Ruled Arson, Investigators Say.” KTLA. CNN, 24 Feb. 2017. Web. 01 May 2017.