On a cold and windy February night, a man who gave only his first name walked up to the Al-Farooq Islamic Center in south Nashville and handed a gallon of stain-blocker paint and a bag of brushes, rollers and rags to a Somali man standing in the parking lot.
Tim, an East Nashville resident, said he did the first thing he could think of when he drove by the center Wednesday and saw the words “Muslims Go home” and a crusade-style cross spray-painted in red across the front of the center, which doubles as a mosque.
“When I saw it, I just broke down crying,” the self-described unemployed truck driver said. “I went straight to Home Depot and bought a gallon of paint.”
As he handed over the paint he said, “I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I hope you know that [this act] doesn’t represent my city. Again, I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
Members of the mostly Somali congregation discovered their building had been defaced when they arrived between 5:30 and 6 a.m. for the first of five daily prayers Wednesday. They say the graffiti, the first ever at the center where they’ve held daily prayers since 2003, will be painted over Thursday.
Ahmed Shukri, a Belmont medical student who attends prayers at the mosque, said the damage was hard to believe.
“When we see these, we were shocked — we’re all neighbors here,” he said. “There’s a trucking company across the street. There’s a church next door. We help them. We are all together.”
In addition to the vandalism, The City Paper obtained a copy of a note members found taped to the outside of their youth training building a few blocks away. The handwritten note filled a letter-sized sheet of plain white paper. The words “The Enemy Is Islam” were underlined across the top, and the note was filled with statements tying Muslims to Satan and the downfall of Western nations.
“You Moslems [sic] are Satan’s preferred brood to destroy Christians, Jews & the whole House of Israel,” it read. “I trust no Moslem no matter how sincere you seem to be. Every Moslem nation needs to be eradicated that surrounds the Holy Land. There is no peace w/Islam!”
Salaad Nur, one of nine board members at Al-Farooq, said the congregation has received great community support since the incident and since a WTVF-Channel 5 news report about an alleged private Muslim community some are calling an Islamic terrorist training camp.
“We take it as a really strong symbol that the larger Nashville community is with us,” Nur said. “Especially in the face of inciting news against us. It’s reassuring that people are not shaken by what they hear over the airwaves.”
Nur said he and other board members plan to meet with FBI agents Thursday to determine what to do if the potential hate crimes progress.
Metro police spokesperson Kristin Mumford said hate crimes in Nashville are “fortunately not a common occurrence.”
The spray-painting incident at the center is eerily similar to the reported vandalism to a Jefferson Street mural commemorating the civil rights movement. In that September incident, the faces of blacks in the picture were spray-painted.
Police said they weren¹t able to determine if it was done as a prank by kids or by someone with racist intent.
“It doesn¹t fall into the same category,” Mumford said. “They painted their faces, but it wasn¹t clear from the situation that it was a hate crime.”
Nur said he doesn’t want his or any other Islamic congregation to have to deal with this again.
“Hopefully this is resolved; it’s an isolated incident,” he said.