Islamic Society vandalized on Sunday; city investigating broken windows

NASHUA – Vandals threw rocks at the Islamic Society of Greater Nashua as worshipers were gathering to pray on Sunday night.

“It is devastating and sad for me,” said Muhammad Akbar, the society’s president.

The vandalism took place on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Akbar said the Nashua community has always been good to the Islamic faithful.

“I have never experienced anything other than welcome,” Akbar said. “We are peace-

loving. We should be able to come here with our families.”

Mayor Jim Donchess is upset that the ISGN community was attacked, and he is keeping in touch with police about the case.

“I’m very sad to know there was damage done to the mosque,” Donchess said. “Hopefully this will never happen again.”

About half a dozen prayer-goers were in the building, at 5 Pine St. Ext., when rocks started hitting the outside wall around 8 p.m., Akbar said. The society had been keeping a banner sign under one of the windows, and a rock went through that window, narrowly missing one of the worshippers, Akbar said.

Evening prayer service typically starts at 8:30 p.m., with 30 or so people regularly in attendance, Akbar said. The people in the building during the vandalism attack were praying early and setting up for the others, he said.

Nashua Police Lt. Craig Allard reports that three alleged vandals, believed to be juveniles, were seen walking to the parking lot area at the Pine Street Ext. buildings. Allard reports that the three were seen throwing rocks at a city sign on Pine Street earlier that evening.

National Muslim advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations wants the vandalism investigated as a hate crime. CAIR-Massachusetts Executive Director John Robbins said that the Sept. 11 anniversary is a time when Islamophobia spikes around the country.

“Whenever any house of worship is attacked in this manner, law enforcement authorities should investigate a possible bias motive for the crime,” Robbins said.

Allard said it is too early to say if the vandalism is a hate crime. Under New Hampshire law, a crime can be prosecuted as a hate crime, with enhanced penalties, if it is established that there was a religious, racial, sexual or other bias motivating the crime. There is no evidence yet to point toward a hate crime, Allard said, but the investigation is still ongoing.

“It is something we will look at,” Allard said.

Akbar said the incident might be related to the Sept. 11 anniversary, but he does not see a rising Islamophobia in the community.

Akbar, himself an immigrant from Bangladesh, said many of the worshipers at the ISGN are refugees. When he first came to Nashua 15 years ago, Akbar would travel to Lowell, Mass., to attend prayer services. The ISGN opened three years ago, and it has been a place that welcomes all, he said.

The society has about 150-200 people attend the Friday night prayer services. The society is involved in helping the community, making sure refugees new to this country have enough to eat, donating backpacks for children going to school and taking part in life in the city.

“I love the Nashua community,” Akbar said, noting city leaders have been very supportive, and that he appreciates the police response to the vandalism.

The city responded to the crime with a vigil outside the society’s building Monday night as worshippers went inside to pray at 8:30 p.m.

Ward 4 Alderman Tom Lopez, who helped organize the vigil, said it is important that the Muslim community in Nashua knows the whole city supports them.

“When something happens to a neighbor, we stand with them,” Lopez said.

Nashua is known for being a diverse city, and Lopez said the vandalism does not represent the majority of people. Nashua welcomes people of all backgrounds, he said.

“There is a sense that everybody belongs,” Lopez said.

Damien Fisher can be reached at 594-6531 or dfisher@nashuatelegraph.com.