Louisville Refuses To Let Vandals Win: Interfaith Crowd Paints Over Hateful Graffitti (IMAGES)

On Wednesday, Muslims arriving for prayers at the Louisville Islamic Center were met with an ugly sight. Graffiti in red spray paint covered the building and sidewalk with phrases like “This is for France,” Moslems [sic] – leave the Jews alone” and “Nazis speak Arabic.” The stupidity of the vandals is evident, but that doesn’t lessen the hurtfulness. The Center’s spokesman, Muhammad Babar, said that the group would pray for the vandals and have forgiven them. But the mosque isn’t going anywhere, if that was the intent of the message.

The nasty graffiti that greeted Muslim worshipers on Wednesday

The nasty graffiti that greeted Muslim worshipers on Wednesday. Photo by Muhammad Babar via the Louisville Courier-Journal

On Friday, in an inspiring show of interfaith solidarity, a group of almost 1,000 showed up at the Islamic Center to paint over the graffiti. Many students were part of the group, including ones from Catholic and other private schools, along with over 100 Jewish volunteers. The message was clear: you lose, vandals!

Islamic Center board member Ozair Shariff told The Huffington Post:

“I think it’s very apparent that whatever the intended message the perpetrator had, it certainly backfired. Everyone is working together and in unison and that’s the true spirit of the city and its residents.”

The Mayor of Louisville, along with faith and community leaders addressed the crowd before the painting began. Supplies were donated by local organizations and residents. Labor was provided by community spirit.

The irony of the situation — in light of the pro-Jewish tone of the graffiti — is that the Islamic Center and Jewish communities in Louisville work closely together. Matt Goldberg, development director of the Jewish Community of Louisville was there to help paint over the ugly words. He said that the Louisville “prides itself” on its tolerance and diversity. “It was a shock,” he said, to have such an act occur in the city.

The Muslim community in Louisville is very well-liked, according to Goldberg. He noted that the mosque often works with the Jewish community. Together, they raised money for the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the flood in Pakistan that same year. Every year, the mosque holds an interfaith iftar and the Jewish community hosts Hanukkah and Holocaust events — both religious communities attend the other’s events.

Goldberg said that this vandalism will only strengthen the ties between the two communities, as well as the greater one of Louisville:

“Something like this is only going to bring our communities together. We won’t stand for any kind of discriminatory actions.”

This is exactly as it should be. Every sacred place should be respected, no matter the faith. Religious communities ought to acknowledge all places of worship and treat them as they would their own. Personally, it angers and saddens me when any sacred place — be it church, mosque, synagogue, temple, circle — is desecrated. There is no reason for it other than tribalism. And we should really be getting over that kind of thinking.

This picture gives us some hope for that:

Let the children lead...

Let the children lead… Photo by Ozair Shariff

When I was part of our local Interfaith Alliance chapter, we worked (in vain) for fellowship like this. It is inspiring to see such togetherness and community spirit in — dare I say it? — a deep red state. It gives me hope for the rest of us.

Featured image: Ozair Shariff via Huffington Post