Mayor Don Freitas apologized on behalf of the Antioch community last week to representatives from the Islamic Center of the East Bay for the recent arson fire at their mosque in Antioch. Several mosque members also spoke, thanking the city for its support.
"I think clearly this was a cowardly, despicable act," said Freitas at the Aug. 14 City Council meeting. "We were all shocked. When you are attacked, all of us are attacked. Particularly given the freedom of religion, we were very disturbed by it.
"About two years ago I had the pleasure with then Chief Mark Moczulski to meet with you. It was very memorable and I appreciated that. So on behalf of the community we want to apologize for these acts of cowards.
"I know that the city manager, chief of police as well as a lot of city staff are working to try to help you in this time of need, and we'll continue to do that. I think you can call on any member of council or staff.
"It's an understatement to say how upset and concerned we are about this. And actually, we're a little bit fearful for other faiths and religions as well. Thank you, continue to work with us, and we'll try to get through this as best we possibly can."
The mosque has been the target in the past of vandalism and threatening phone calls, which prompted Freitas' meeting two years ago with mosque leaders to show city support.
Abdul Rahman, chairman of the board of trustees for Islamic Center of the East Bay, said to the council, "I guess because we had all these little incidents that piled up in the past, it looks like something big has to happen for us to go ahead and take some action. We have a community here, which is a sizeable, Muslim community.
"The community is scared. This really hit everybody in our community, in the neighborhood of the mosque. People have been so great and, for the most part, so good to us that we have got nothing but praises. But apparently there are problems as well.
"We would just like the council and the authorities to pay a little more attention to these signs when they are brought forward, and work closely with us. And we are going to work closely with you.
"The question that I have to answer to the kids is: Why? They kept asking me, 'Why would somebody do this to us? Did we do something wrong? Do they think that we are not right?' So those are answers that we have to give as adults, and give good answers.
"A lot of this happens, I believe, from ignorance. We would like to see what are the avenues that we can work together on and maybe educate people. We are going to do more open houses, which we should do, and we are willing to work with you.
"Mr. Davis, thank you once more for extending to us the (Nick Rodriguez Center) facility. Ramadan is starting in about a month, so we will need a place. Thank you for extending all of the cooperation that we have gotten so far. And we hope to go ahead and get even more."
Amer Araim, a Muslim imam, said, "We appreciate very much the support and calls and e-mails we are receiving. We would like to express once again that the Muslim community is an integral part of the faith community and the entire society.
"The Muslim community is against terrorism and violence. All of the members of the Muslim community are law-abiding citizens. They are hard workers and they are trying to help the community to achieve better understanding and to help the poor and the needy in the community.
"We hope that we will continue to cooperate and work together. We would like to ask for public education that extremes and violence should be rejected and eliminated. Those on the fringe who are using such tactics should be isolated and exposed."
Naveed Ahmed, told the council, "I know you guys are working very hard to bring this community together. I hope everything will be back or will be normalized very soon with an effort of unity."
Jaime Cader, a member of the Contra Costa County Human Relations Commission, said, "To better the situation I believe that we have to focus on education to teach about the Islamic faith in the public schools - not to promote or convert anybody - but to teach about the history and the contributions to the world. I'm willing to start a reading group. I have several books that will help people realize things.
"Also I've noticed that in the evening that the police seem to concentrate in areas around dance clubs and bars. So this would be an instance where the police need to go to houses of worships and protect those areas also.
"So we need to be honest and not sweep all these problems under the rug; realize that there are some antagonisms out there and do the best we can."
Councilman Arne Simonsen said, "I find it very disturbing what happened in our community. I think the mayor's comments were right on the mark. He expressed the outrage each of us feel for what occurred. This is totally wrong.
"Jaime, your offer on having classes available for people to understand the Koran, I think is worthwhile. A lot of people don't understand that Islam goes back to Abraham and refers to the God of Abraham. You really have to learn about it. Islam, like any Christian religion or other fringe religions, has radicals that give religion a bad name. And we have to be very conscious of that. With God's grace we will overcome in our community."