Community Gathers For Vigil Following Arson At New Haven Mosque | Connecticut Public Radio

Community Gathers For Vigil Following Arson At New Haven Mosque

May 17, 2019

The intentional burning of New Haven's Diyanet Mosque during Ramadan prompted community members of all faiths to gather at the site for a vigil Thursday night. The mosque went up in flames on Sunday afternoon, sending waves of concern, anger, and heartbreak throughout the community.

Twelve-year-old Elif Uzun stood among a row of other Muslim girls her age holding signs of with a range of messages: This Is Our Home. We Stand United. Love Will Win. Hate Will Lose. 

Uzun, who identifies as Turkish American, had been going to the mosque since she was three. 

"It made me feel upset because all my childhood memories--I had multiple birthdays here, I grew up with friends here that I call my sisters--seeing all the memories go away in a split second just made me feel destroyed," Uzun said. "It dosen't feel right. I don't think anybody deserves this."

A group of young women from Connecticut's Muslim community hold signs at the vigil.
Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

She was at home on Sunday when she heard the news, then rode with her family to face what they feared--the mosque in flames. 

New Haven mayor Toni Harp told Connecticut Public Radio Tuesday morning that an incendiary device had been found at the scene. Law enforcement says the motive for the attack is not yet clear.

"Islamophobia is real. It's spreading around us in New Haven and around the world," said Mohamed Badawi, president of the Muslim American Society of Connecticut. "It's affecting individuals and communities. We must combat Islamophobia in all of its strands of hate."

Beyond feelings of heartbreak, were those of frustration.

"I wish I could say I was surprised by what happened on Sunday but I'm not," said New Haven 1st Ward Alderman Hacibey Catalbasoglu, who also identifies as Turkish-American. According to Catalbasoglu, the city has shown "persistent indifference" towards local Muslim communities and Muslim lives in America.

New Haven 1st Ward Alderman Hacibey Catalbaosoglu speaks during the vigil. He said the city has shown "persistent indifference" towards local Muslim communities and Muslim lives in America.
Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

"There has been overwhelming support that has poured in for our mosque in the past week but I fear that after the smoke clears, after the reporters put down their pens, after the donations peter out, we will return to the status quo," Catabasoglu said. "Muslims in this city and state and country will continue to be marginalized, to be ignored by our elected officials."

Dozens of other faith leaders attended the vigil in solidarity that night, and Friday morning Senator Richard Blumenthal visited the charred masjid.

"We will be with you as you rebuild, and there is not a question that you will rebuild with the support of the community," Blumenthal said.

He called the arson an "intentional criminal act" that is "truly despicable and cowardly."

"We have seen the raft of attacks, fires, bombings, shootings at places of worship all too often in this country," Blumenthal said. "We need to invest in security of these places of worship."

Hundreds of people gathered for a vigil before sundown on Thursday in the wake of an arson at New Haven's Diyanet Mosque.
Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

He spoke of the need for a joint effort among local, state and federal governments, and said he will bring photos of the mosque to Washington to lobby for support for that funding.

"This place has been so important to the Turkish-American community," said Ceylan Ozen Erison, the consul general at the Turkish Consulate in Boston. "I'm overwhelmed by what we have witnessed and the damage."

Community efforts to fund the restoration and repair of the mosque have surpassed $157,000 since the online LaunchGood campaign began on May 13th.

Some members of Muslim community stayed after the vigil ended to break their fast with dates.
Credit Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio

"I think there's extra blessings in Ramadan and so I think that's really motivated and inspired people to give and just an outpouring of support from non-Muslim neighbors, allies, supporters," said Omer Bajwa, a teacher at the mosque and Director of Muslim Life at Yale University. Bajwa helped started the online campaign.

The arson is under investigation by by local authorities, state police, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "We're not ruling out any motive," said John Alston, New Haven's interim chief of police. "We are turning every stone but at this point we're not going to discuss what the direction of the investigation is."