Omar Abdel-Ghaffar was jolted from sleep early Sunday by calls and texts that the local mosque in Davis, directly across from the University of California campus, had been vandalized.
The windows at the Islamic Center of Davis had been shattered. Bacon had been wrapped around the door handles of the main entryway — a sign of disrespect, as pork is forbidden in Islam. Bike tires were slashed.
“This is where we grew up,” said Abdel-Ghaffar, born and raised in Davis and a fourth-year UC Davis student. “To see that anger. All of those cracks, the shattered glass. The sheer anger was really scary.”
The vandalism comes less than two months after the Islamic Center of Davis received an alarming letter that was sent to other Islamic centers nationwide threatening that then-President-elect Donald Trump was “going to cleanse America and make it shine again” and will “do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.”
Some people who attend the mosque fear that the election of Trump, who during his incendiary campaign pledged to ban Muslims from coming into the country, has increased Islamophobia across the nation and that even towns with liberal reputations like Davis are not immune.
“Davis is a town where we love our farmers’ markets. We are liberal. As long as (a cause) fits a certain mold, we will champion it in Davis,” said Hassan Shabbir, 30, who has been attending services at the mosque since he was a child.
But a day after the mosque was vandalized, Shabbir said he got a taste of the hate that has invaded his community. He said he was standing outside the mosque on Monday with his uncle assessing the damage when someone drove by and yelled, “Trump will kill you all!”
“Literally, the day after someone broke all of our windows” at the mosque, said Shabbir. “What the hell is going on? This is Davis.”
The Davis Police Department is investigating the vandalism as a hate crime, with the help of the FBI, said Lt. Thomas Waltz of the Davis Police Department.
Surveillance footage showed the vandal casually walking up to the Islamic Center of Davis’ doors on the 500 block of Russell Boulevard about 3:45 a.m. Sunday. She draped uncooked bacon over the handles, broke six windowpanes and knifed the tires of three bicycles in the mosque parking lot. The suspect, who police said is 25 to 35 years old, was unrecognizable to those affiliated with the mosque.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has issued a $1,000 reward for information that could lead to the identification and arrest of the vandal.
“We want to send a message that any attack against a house of worship will be responded to in this manner,” said Basim Elkarra, the executive director of CAIR-Sacramento Valley, adding that the last time the organization issued a reward for a hate crime in the region was in 2011, when two Sikh men were shot in nearby Elk Grove.
Davis, a college town that prides itself on its reputation of tolerance, has now had three hate crimes in 2017. The previous two hate crimes included a racial slur directed toward African Americans painted on one of the picnic tables in a park and a case that involved vandalism to a Black Lives Matter plaque on a school campus.
The vandalism at the mosque shocked many in Davis and prompted an outpouring of support from strangers with donations, flowers and messages of compassion sent to the mosque, including one from the mayor of the city, Robb Davis.
“First, this is the act of a coward,” Davis, the mayor, said in a statement to The Chronicle. “We should all feel pity for a person so emotionally stunted that they stoop to this action, which is designed only to hurt and scar. Second, our Muslim brothers and sisters are part of the fabric of our community and we will never abandon them — ever.”
A “Statement of Love” event is being held during the Friday afternoon prayer at the mosque for the community to show solidarity with members of mosque.
Ammar Shahin, the imam of the center, said he was stunned by the recent uptick in hate crimes in Davis, a town he described as being the “quietest area.”
“We almost had no problem with anybody around us,” Shahin said. “It’s very rare to have something like this happen in Davis, and it’s very scary, too.”
While the current political climate is being blamed by some for contributing to the rise in hate crimes, Abdel-Ghaffar said it’s not as easy as just pinning it on the election of the new president.
“In reality there has been Islamophobia before Trump and before 9/11. Because (Davis) is a university town, there are plenty of very well-read and intellectual people. And I think oftentimes, intellectuals manage to veil their bigotry. Not just from others, but also from themselves,” said Abdel-Ghaffar, who is also the external vice president of the Muslim Student Association at UC Davis.
In light of the recent events, Abdel-Ghaffar said he’s emboldened to take action, even in a place like Davis where the community seems accepting on the surface.
To Abdel-Ghaffar, simply refusing to engage with someone who makes anti-Muslim comments doesn’t address the problem. He’s working with the UC Davis administration and other interfaith groups to develop a workshop for community members and faculty that will equip them with the tools to facilitate conversations around Islam.
“We have to reach out to other communities and give our allies the tools they need to combat Islamophobia in their circles,” Abdel-Ghaffar said. “When (our allies) hear something Islamophobic, they don’t want to engage with it, but you have to engage with it and shatter these perceptions that people have.”