Faith leaders, lawmakers join in prayer with members of vandalized Rochester Hills mosque

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Rochester Hills — Lawmakers and community members joined faith leaders on a brisk Sunday afternoon, gathering outside a Muslim house of worship vandalized Oct. 8 to send a message of solidarity and forgiveness. 

Attendees pray silently at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosque in Rochester Hills that was vandalized Oct. 8.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Rochester Hills hosted an interfaith prayer event with around 50 attendees outside its mosque, Masjid Mahmood, just over a week after its main entryway was smashed. 

A suspect, Ryan Lee Ahern, 33, of Rochester Hills was arraigned Saturday and charged with a misdemeanor in the incident, the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday. Bond was set at $10,000 and Ahern was free after posting $1,000 in bail.

The incident was not being treated as a hate crime, said Capt. Bart Wilson.

Wilson said the suspect allegedly caused damage at the mosque and at other locations and said the situation was serious but it did not appear to not have been motivated by specific hatred.

The main entryway of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community mosque in Rochester Hills was smashed on Oct. 8, an act police are not treating as a hate crime.

The Ahmadiyya community did not press for Ahern to be charged and will not seek monetary damages through the court, said Imam Shamshad Nasir with the Ahmadiyya Regional Missionary in Detroit.

Police and prosecutors are acting on their own, Nasir said. The Ahmadiyya community has forgiven him and would rather welcome him than press for charges, he said. 

"This is Islamic teaching," said Nasir. "We want to pardon the person because we hope God will show mercy upon all of us." 

The event Sunday kicked off with a recitation from the Quran, followed by remarks from Nasir Bukhari and Maqbool Tahir, the community's director of public affairs and president of the local chapter, respectively, in which they expressed gratitude for the support they had received from the interfaith community in the attack's aftermath. 

Masood Khan recites a verse from the Quran to kick off the interfaith prayer in solidarity with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, whose Rochester Hills mosque was vandalized on Oct. 8. Nasir Bukhari, the community's director of public affairs, stands in the background.

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh leaders then spoke to the audience about the importance of interfaith dialogue and stressing their solidarity with the Ahmadiyya community in Michigan. 

"Diversity is a gift from God, it is not a bug in the system," said the Rev. Christina Hallam of the Northminster Presbyterian Church in Troy.

"I absolutely love the fact that every tradition is not my tradition," she said. "It absolutely broke my heart to see that another tradition, another house of stories ... was a place of violence and disrespect." 

Rabbi Asher Lopatin of the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Community echoed Hallam's sentiment. 

"We are here to fight with you against hatred," said Lopatin. "We are here to spread that love as well." 

Rabbi Asher Lopatin of the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Community stressed the importance of inter-religious solidarity.

Republican and Democratic state representatives spoke as well, describing the value of the diverse religious communities in Rochester Hills and nearby cities. 

State Rep. Mark Tisdell, R-Rochester, said he had a longstanding relationship with the Ahmadiyya community that began when he was a city councilman. He compared the community's slogan, "Love for all, hatred for none" with parts of his Christian faith, in which he said Jesus told his followers to love one another. 

"And that's really all you need to do," said Tisdell. "... I felt very much at home here." 

State Rep. Padma Kuppa, D-Troy, presented a U.S. flag to the mosque as a gift, saying it represented religious freedom and acceptance. 

"It means welcoming those who are different," said Kuppa. 

"You may have experienced vandalism, but we are part of this religious landscape. This is what America is." 

Maqbool Tahir, president of the local chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, thanks attendees for the outpouring of support the mosque received after being vandalized.

The vandalism took place Friday night after evening prayers, according to Imam Nasir, who said mosque members did not notice it until the following morning. 

Nasir said this was the first incident of violence they experienced since the 1980s when their mosque, then in Detroit, was burned down, killing one of their leaders. 

That part of the community's history sharpened their response to the Friday incident, he added, having immediately alerting law enforcement, community members and their nearby interfaith contacts out of an abundance of caution. 

Muhammad Shahid Mahmood, 48, regularly attends Masjid Mahmood for prayer and community events. He said he and others are used to having a peaceful community, and so were surprised and scared when news spread of the vandalism. 

"We have children and families who come to the mosque," said Mahmood. "So definitely it did not (feel) welcoming for us after the attack." 

But the announcement Sunday that the incident was not being treated as a hate crime came as a relief to Mahmood. The mosque received calls, flowers, emails and offers of help they received from nearby communities were unexpected, and made them feel like parts of a family. 

"That support is amazing. I think that's how it should be," said Mahmood. "If something happens to one part of the body, the other parts should be awakened." 

Detroit News Staff Writer Carol Thompson contributed to this report.