Public officials are taking to social media to share their reactions to the news of a fire at a local mosque, emphasizing that Muslims are welcome in the community.
A joint investigation is being conducted by the Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Federal Bureau of Investigation into the fire that occurred over the weekend at the Islamic Center of Ypsilanti, located at 5909 W. Michigan Ave. in Pittsfield Township, just south of Ann Arbor.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said he awaits the results of the investigation, but in the meantime he had a few things to say in a Facebook post on Sunday, March 12.
"Muslim men, women, and children, whether citizen, immigrant or refugee, are welcomed and valued members of the Ann Arbor community, with every right to live and work and participate in the hometown that we all share," he said.
"I am committed to doing everything I can to ensure that Muslims in Ann Arbor know that they are a part of us, that Muslims belong here."
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who represents the area, also weighed in on Facebook on Sunday.
"I, like many, was deeply concerned to learn about the fire at the Islamic Center in Pittsfield Township yesterday evening," she said.
"At a time when we are seeing an increase in threats against members of our communities based on race and religion - whether at a Mosque or a Jewish Community Center - there is obvious reason for concern, and there are many questions as to what happened and why."
Dingell said she has spoken with law enforcement officials and is pleased that federal authorities are working with state and local law enforcement to investigate the incident and determine the facts.
"If it is found to be arson, the perpetrators must be held accountable," she said. "As a community, we must stand united against hate and division in our society."
Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal offered comment on the fire in a news release issued by the township on Sunday.
"It is because of the welcoming and diverse nature of our community that folks like the Islamic Center of Ypsilanti choose to locate in Pittsfield," she said.
"As such, our leadership and police will continue working toward providing for the safety and security of all."
The news release from the township states that the Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees stands in support of the Islamic community.
"I am available 24/7 for anyone who wants to reach out to us for support and assistance," said Pittsfield Township Trustee Yameen Jaffer, who also serves as a board member of the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor.
The Pittsfield Township Fire Department responded to the fire at about 5 p.m. Saturday, March 11, after multiple 911 calls.
Upon arrival, firefighters found the unoccupied structure with heavy fire coming from both the first and second floors. According to the township, the fire was under control within 20 minutes and no one was injured.
Grewal said the township is waiting to find out the facts of the case before making any assumptions, but she feels strongly that the township has a culture of respect and inclusivity embedded into the fabric of the community, which she said is why people from diverse backgrounds choose to make it their home.
"For example, the Islamic Center of Ypsilanti and the Arab American Cultural Center chose to locate here just last year," she said.
Ann Arbor City Council Member Chuck Warpehoski, director of the local Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, shared a blog post about ways to show solidarity.
"At this time, very little is known about the fire, but in the climate of increased attacks against religious minorities, including a recent bomb threat against the Hebrew Day School in Ann Arbor, many in our community are feeling scared and vulnerable," the post on the ICPJ website reads.
It points to a crowdfunding campaign that already has raised more than $15,000 to help rebuild the Islamic Center, includes information about a March 19 open house at a mosque on Plymouth Road, and other ways to learn more about Islam and take part in "bystander intervention training."
Warpehoski said thousands of yard signs and banners showing support for refugees and Muslims have been distributed throughout Washtenaw County since last year as part of the One Human Family campaign started by his organization and the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw County.
The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering a reward for information should the mosque fire be ruled arson.