Metro

Muslims hold interfaith event to ‘re-tag’ Burlington mosque

BURLINGTON — It happened again.

For the fourth time in five years, Munir Gandevia and the Islamic Center of Burlington were left reeling after another incident of vandalism, each one of them larger in scale than the last. Early Sunday morning members found an entire wall of the mosque covered with eggs and red spray-paint that read “USA.”

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Gandevia and his congregation were disappointed.

“What happened was unexpected and unbelievable,” Gandevia, the mosque’s president, said Wednesday. “We are proud Americans, and this is our land.”

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On Wednesday, about 50 town religious leaders, politicians, and community members gathered for a united interfaith event at the mosque, called “We are Americans.”

The purpose of the event was to “retag” the mosque’s eggshell-colored walls with positive messages that showed the Muslim community’s true inclusive nature, leaders said. Supporters signed posters of good will, and mosque leaders displayed 12 encouraging e-mails from area well-wishers.

But the event also served a different purpose, to reassert Burlington’s Muslim population as equal partners in their local community, state, and nation. The American Civil Liberties Union has tracked at least 75 anti-mosque incidents nationwide since 2006.

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Cameron S. Cappella and Derrik M. Demone, both 18-year-olds from Burlington, have been charged with malicious destruction of property over $250, and tagging property, according to police.

They were arraigned in Woburn District Court Monday and are due back for an appearance on Dec. 11.

“I hope this will teach them something,” Gandevia said, after the retagging ceremony. “This is not a prank to us. Maybe to them.”

The mosque has been the target of several incidents of vandalism and intimidation since 2010, Gandevia and other community leaders said.

In 2010 and 2013, graffiti appeared on the center’s walls. Earlier this year, a young man took off his shirt, wore it like a head scarf, and taunted people exiting the mosque, according to John Robbins, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

A member of the Islamic Center of Burlington and Michael O'Brien, (right) Interim Pastor at Presbyterian Church in Burlington, wrote positive messages on the wall of the building.

That incident took place during the holy month of Ramadan, Robbins said.

“These acts were done with the premise that there is something antithetical between being Muslim and American,” Robbins said. “But our ability to reclaim this wall and its message demonstrates the falsity of that claim.”

Massachusetts State Representative Ken Gordon, a representative from the Burlington Chamber of Commerce, and members of the Burlington clergy community also spoke at the afternoon event.

“All clergy find these acts unconscionable and intolerable,” said the Rev. Angela Wells of the Burlington Interfaith Clergy Council. “The Muslim community is part of what makes Burlington great.”

Kicking off the ceremony, Gordon urged community members to follow the “Golden Rule,” a biblical principle that urges individuals to “treat others the way you want to be treated.”

“This is Burlington,” Gordon said, referring to the outpouring of support at the ceremony. “We expect respect, and we expect human beings to respect each other.”

Susan Abramson, rabbi at the Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington, also pressed the Burlington community to stand together for peace.

“In one voice and body we stand against any act of violence and bigotry,” Abramson said, while also speaking on behalf of the clergy council.

Audience members, many of whom came from nearby houses of worship, said they attended the ceremony to show solidarity with the mosque.

Most applauded politely after each of the community leaders spoke at a podium, and some left uplifting messages on white poster boards that covered parts of the old graffiti.

“Psalm 133: How very good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity,” read one poster board.

“We are all made in God’s image. There is NO ROOM for hate or religious intolerance,” read another.

Muhammad Kazi, a 42-year-old software engineer from Billerica, has attended the Burlington mosque for 13 years.

After the ceremony, Kazi acknowledged that the repeated vandalism and harassment was emotionally draining, but he said the mosque welcomes any opportunity to teach others about Islam.

Any disdain for the religion and its stateside worshipers is based in misinformation, Kazi said.

“If you look inside that mosque, there are engineers and doctors who are all US citizens,” he said. “But today was excellent. This shows who we really are.”

And as for the accused teenagers, Kazi said they’re absolutely welcomed for a service.

Father Frank Silva, Pastor at Saint Margaret Parish, and Rabbi Susan Abramson, of Temple Shalom Emeth, addressed the crowd.

Craig F. Walker / Globe Staff

Father Frank Silva, Pastor at Saint Margaret Parish, and Rabbi Susan Abramson, of Temple Shalom Emeth, addressed the crowd.

The crowd listened to a speaker at the Islamic Center of Burlington on Wednesday.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The crowd listened to a speaker at the Islamic Center of Burlington on Wednesday.

Andy Rosen of Globe Staff contributed to this report. Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH
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