After overnight fire at New Tampa mosque, Buckhorn calls for unity

A crowd-funding page set up to help the Islamic Society of New Tampa recover raised thousands of dollars within hours of the fire, which officials are calling arson.

Hundreds of parishioners of the Islamic Society of New Tampa who went to bed expecting to attend Friday prayer at the Morris Bridge Road mosque the following day woke up with no place to pray.

Their mosque had burned overnight, and though investigators have yet to find a suspect, those wary of hate groups point to an ongoing rash of crimes targeting specific religions groups (like this one) and non-whites (like this one) that appears to have sprung up alongside the rise of Donald Trump and the xenophobia with which he is associated.

Friday morning, hours after the crime took place, Buckhorn, mosque officials and spokespeople for the Council on American-Islamic Relations gave a quickly assembled press conference to update the public on what's presently known about the crime and to show solidarity among all religious groups.

“We do know that it was arson, and we do know that a house of worship was targeted," Buckhorn said. "This is no different than the wave of anti-semitic attacks on Jewish community centers and synagogues and bomb threats that have been called in all across the country, including in Tampa, over the recent months.”

Buckhorn, who delivered a similar message at a Tampa mosque in January in the wake of Trump's executive order effectively banning Muslims, called for people of all religions to stand together against the kind of hate that makes people afraid of practicing their own religion or being who they are.

“This is America. Our America, their America. We don't tolerate that. So whatever occurred here, we will find out. The perpetrator will be punished. But we cannot allow, as a community, anybody to be victimized, to feel vulnerable, to be attacked for any reason, whether rhetorically, whether through a presidential order, whether it's an arson, whether it's a hate crime, whether you're Jewish, Muslim or Catholic,” he said. “So let's figure out who did this, but more importantly, let's support our Muslim friends and neighbors in this community.”

Prayer was set for one Friday afternoon, but mosque officials said repairing the building will take at least a week. The fire damaged the men's entrance to the house of worship. A crowd-funding page set up in the aftermath of the fire has already raised thousands.

Rasha Mubarak, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, praised the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's “rapid and successful response” to the incident, and expressed optimism in light of the solidarity non-Muslims are showing in the face of hate.

“As we have seen in the historic past, that there is so much power in pain," she said.. "And today, that's just a revelation of the power and passion and love that we will contribute and extend to not just the Muslim community, but any community member that's facing any kind of discrimination. We also want to continue to understand why this happens, who to hold accountable, like the mayor mentioned. We will continue to fight, but we will fight with words of love and compassion.”

Across the bay, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman plans on addressing the congregation at the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg after their Friday prayer.

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