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After vandalism, members of Las Vegas mosque seek answers

Updated Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015 | 11 a.m.

Worshippers arriving at a Spring Valley mosque for early morning prayer Sunday were confronted with an unwelcome sight: raw bacon threaded through the handles of three doors around the building.

Footage from the mosque’s security cameras showed a white man wearing a baseball cap and glasses placing the meat at 3:17 a.m. In total, three of the mosque’s doors were wrapped with bacon — one of the doors even wrapped in the bacon’s packaging — in an apparent hate crime.

Members of the mosque were concerned, but when contacted Tuesday, seemed more perplexed than outraged.

“To us, it’s not as offensive as he might think,” said Fayyaz Raja, the vice president of the Islamic Association of Las Vegas at Masjid Tawheed. “According to our religion, yes, we can’t touch it, we can’t eat it. That I understand. But to me, it’s comical.”

Metro Police received word of the incident about 9:30 a.m. Sunday, and an officer responded to take a report on the vandalism-related act, Officer Larry Hadfield said.

Hadfield said police haven’t identified a suspect but are investigating the incident as a possible hate crime — Islam considers pork haram, or forbidden, to touch or eat.

Legally, the status of "hate crime" in Nevada applies when it is determined that a crime occurs "because of certain actual or perceived characteristics" of a victim including race, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, and sexual orientation.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and is investigating the matter as a possible hate crime.

In an ironic twist, Raja said it seems the vandal thought that a neighboring general contracting firm was affiliated with the mosque and wrapped their door with bacon too — but probably didn’t know that one of the firm’s principals was Jewish. Danny Amster, a principal with Dakem & Associates, said he found out about the incident Sunday morning after a call from the mosque and doubted that bacon was intended to target him personally.

“People who know me know I’m Jewish, but the guy who did this would have no way to know,” Amster said. “It’s just a stupid, senseless act.”

In the wake of the incident, members of the congregation aren’t angry, afraid or upset, Raja said. Instead they’re left with questions. Why did the man do what he did? What did he intend to accomplish? Did he think bacon would be that offensive to them?

The incident is the latest on a growing list of anti-Muslim incidents across the country this year. In April, pieces of pork were found tied around the door handle of an Oklahoma mosque. Earlier this month, a severed pig’s head was found outside a Philadelphia mosque.

“I don’t know what it is about pork that these anti-Muslim bigots think it’s like kryptonite to Muslims,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights organization. “You just take it off, you wash it off and go about your business.”

Hooper said that his group has received numerous pork-themed hate messages, including a Quran delivered to them in a box filled with pork rinds.

Other mosques across the country have suffered more severe attacks this year — burglaries, smashed windows, firebombs and threats of bombings or mass shootings. In total, the Council on American-Islamic Relations counted 75 other incidents at mosques in 2015, more than triple the number in 2014.

The council has tracked a significant uptick in incidents in the wake of the Paris attacks and San Bernardino shootings, but Hooper said that he believed some of the anti-Muslim sentiment has been fomented by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign. Last month, Trump suggested that all Muslim-Americans should have to register in a national database and suggested that some mosques should be placed under surveillance.

Raja, who has lived in Las Vegas since 1979, said he’s “flabbergasted” by the incident. Of the 33 members of his family, none has experienced any anti-Muslim attacks.

Other Las Vegas mosques, however, have. Aslam Abdullah, the director of Masjid Ibrahim, a mosque in northwest Las Vegas, said mosques in Las Vegas have been graffitied and have had their windows shattered. Abdullah attributes the attacks in Las Vegas and nationwide to ignorance about Islam and hoped that Sunday’s incident would promote understanding among members of all religions.

“Yes, people are reacting to what they have heard about Paris, what they have heard about San Bernardino and what they have been told by Donald Trump,” Abdullah said. “Most Muslims have been an integral part of this community and this society.”

As for Raja, he hopes that his mosque will find answers.

“I’d love to sit down with (the man). I don’t have a problem going to a bar. I can have a soda. He can drink beer,” Raja said. “I would love to have him come out and see what we say and see if he can learn something. Maybe we can learn something from him, too.”

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