CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Fire crews were called out at 5 a.m. on Friday, April 24 to a fire at the Islamic Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
This fire damaged much of the building with an estimated loss of $145,000 according to a Cape Girardeau Fire Department's report.
According to Cape Girardeau Fire Chief Travis Hollis, it is not clear what started the fire, but believes it started at the front door and considers the fire to be suspicious.
Due to the suspicious nature of this fire, it has enraged the community and people around the country who support the Islamic congregation.
"The Missouri Division of Fire Safety is part of joint local-state-federal probe of this suspicious fire in Cape Girardeau. In Missouri, we won't tolerate an attack on any house of worship," Missouri Governor Mike Parson said in a Facebook post. "This was a cowardly act."
Governor Parson wasn’t the only one that spoke about this suspicious fire.
"A suspicious fire at any house of worship is unsettling, and the fact this fire took place at the start of the holy month of Ramadan makes it all the more worrisome," FBI St. Louis Division Public Affairs Officer Rebecca Wu said. "Protecting the civil rights of all Americans, regardless of color or creed, is one of the top priorities of the FBI, and we're asking for the public's help in finding out who did this."
The FBI is offering reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible for setting fire.
Cape Girardeau police are also asking for anyone who drove by the area shortly before 5 a.m. on Friday to contact the Cape Girardeau Police Department at 573-335-6621 and speak with detectives.
Because of this suspicious act, many in the Cape Girardeau community and beyond are also showing their appreciation for those who visit and who live at the Islamic Center.
“These are people who are members of our community, vital parts of our businesses and our education structures,” Brooke Hildebrand Clubbs said. “They’ve been such a force for good for our community, packing lunches, back to school backpacks and helping with our un-housed friends in our community and provided dinners for them. They’ve done so much and it just seems appropriate that people want to give back to them.”
Brooke Hildebrand Clubbs was the faculty adviser for the Student Interfaith Alliance with Southeast Missouri State University and is now the Instructor and Director of Health Communication with university currently.
She said it's great seeing the outpouring support for the Islamic community.
"Seeing that support is just so affirming in that way," Hilderbrand Clubbs said. "It made me feel so good for my friends that worship there because I think they always have this little fear that maybe they're not really welcome, that maybe people have been just tolerating them because of some stereotypes that they have about Islam."
At the time this article was written, a GoFundMe page was roughly sitting at $60,000 donated towards a new building.
This GoFundMe page is organized by the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau. They state that the funds will be used solely for restoration of the living conditions of the families and to help rebuild the Islamic center.
In addition to money raised, people have been also dropping off items to show their appreciation for the Islamic community.
“It makes us strong and gives us strength,” Ijaz Ahmad said. “People bring flowers and showing so much love and support which re-cure the harm.”
Thursday night was the start of Ramadan, which is part of the five pillars of Islam. For 30 days followers fast and do not eat or drink from sunup to sundown.
The Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for the fire.
“Because the fire was deemed ‘suspicious,’ and because it occurred at a house of worship on a significant religious date, we urge law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for the blaze,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.
Chief Hollis said the building has significant damage to the front entrance and on the second floor.
The second floor has heavy damage. The entrance and the side of the building have smoke damage.
The structure on West End Blvd. was evacuated, including tenants living in the apartments on the second floor.
Ahmad and others living inside the building were collecting their items and salvaging what they could from their living quarters on Saturday to stay with some friends temporarily until they can find a more permanent solution.