Va. mosque vandalism draws sympathy for long-persecuted Muslim sect

| February 21, 2012

In late January, workmen in Chantilly erected a minaret on the roof of a new building, the first highly visible sign that it was to be a mosque. That night, vandals hurled rocks at its arched windows, shattering many. Empty beer cans and liquor bottles were scattered on the mosque’s grounds and roof.

The attackers left no written message, and police have not found them. But if their intent was to ostracize or frighten the worshippers, mostly of Pakistani origin, it didn’t work. Religious and political leaders across the region quickly issued statements of condemnation. A week later, at a regional interfaith meeting in Sterling, officials from a variety of congregations expressed their outrage and sympathy.

“We were a little surprised, because this is a conservative area. But the attack seems to have brought the community together in a positive way,” said Shahid Malik, an engineer and official of the mosque. “I think civic leaders here have gotten to know us. They see that we are helpful and hard-working and that we condemn terrorism. What happened was unfortunate, but it had a silver lining.”

To members of the mosque, the incident was an alarming echo of the persecution their sect, known as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has faced for years in Pakistan. It also came at a time when some political and religious figures in the United States warn that the proliferation of Muslim immigrants and mosques represents a danger to American society.

In contrast, local groups took pains to reassure the Chantilly mosque members that they are a welcome part of the region’s rapid diversification. Once mostly white, the Dulles region is now a mosaic of international cultures and faiths, from Indian Sikhs to Vietnamese Buddhists.

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