Vandal defiles mosque sign

Community members join hands around the sign vandalized at the Two Rivers Mosque at 801 Gunnison Ave. in Grand Junction.

Abdelghani Essaifi smiles brightly as he finishes a satisfactory call with his family.

The native of Morocco has a smile as easy as arithmetic but his expression can also be as complicated as algebra when he talks about serious subjects.

Standing outside the mosque he started two years ago, Essaifi's smile hits its pinnacle when he talks about the community members who rallied behind him and the mosque.

"You know, it was amazing," he said standing beside the Two Rivers Mosque sign that was vandalized on Sept. 17.

"If it was not for the community, we would be really, really helpless."

But the community near the mosque at 801 Gunnison Ave. in Grand Junction was quick and neighborly as they flocked to the scene with support.

"That was a lot of support, and we would have been really sad and really scared, but it was a lot of support," Essaifi said. "This community gave us energy and we feel like we are not alone."

In a way, feeling alone is common for Essaifi. Embracing his Muslim faith is easy for the 45-year-old, but he knows that many view his religion with animosity and hatred.

He knew it wouldn't be easy to open a mosque, but he let his faith make that decision for him. The small Muslim community in Grand Junction needed a house of worship, and Essaifi made it happen.

But he was still keenly aware of the animosity that some have for his religion.

Essaifi, who came to the United States 13 years ago on an immigrant visa, realizes the complicated history and the evil deeds that some Muslims have done will create an unwelcome impression for many.

That's what made him want to be a good neighbor.

Two years ago, the Two Rivers Mosque relocated to this building, but Essaifi wanted to wait before putting up the sign.

He didn't want to offend or frighten, he wanted to show the neighborhood they were good, caring neighbors before making that decision.

"We did not want to create any tension with our neighbors," he said. "So when we started this place, neighbors showed us love and respect for our culture and who we are. That's when we decided 'let's do it,' let's put the sign up."

Then, in the dark of night, a man came by and spray painted over the sign and ripped out the flowers at the base of the sign.

As of last week, Grand Junction Police Department said the case is still under investigation and no arrests have been made.

Essaifi has long seen the headlines and watched the news stories from around the world, and he knows that some of those followers embrace hate over love and respect.

He understands why the evil members of his religion make it difficult to fit in.

But it's his faith and his love and respect he has for others that keeps him from judging the man who vandalized the mosque sign.

"We do not know him, maybe he doesn't understand," Essaifi said. "Maybe if he did understand, it would be different. We don't know him personally, so we will not judge him.

"What we know from this (incident) is that the whole community is not like that. Everywhere you go, there are bad apples."

Yes, he understands that many do not understand or welcome the Muslim religion.

"That's why we invite people to come over here to our mosque, so if they have any questions or misinformation, we can clear that up," he said.

Support came from the community, along with members from other churches, but law enforcement of all kinds including the FBI and local agencies, also gathered. They had a stern and urgent message for Essaifi.

"I still remember it, they said 'don't be naive, don't assume nothing will happen.' They told us to take your precautions, they told us you have to be careful," he said.

Looking at the sign, which was power washed and scrubbed clean, Essaifi nods his head."We know we have to be careful."

In the Muslim religion, Friday is like Sunday, it's their day of worship, Essaifi explains.

One precaution is already in place. They've hired a security guard to be nearby, especially on Fridays.

Essaifi doesn't enjoy talking about the bad things, but he understands the bad apples are out there. He also understands some of those bad apples are Muslims. He does love talking about the community and all the support they showed.

"There was something good that happened after this," he said, and smiled. "Not only was this good, it was a lot of good."

Now, if there's another bad incident, Essaifi and his Muslim friends know they have the support of the community and neighbors. "We know if something happens they are going to come and help," he said. "We feel like we are part of this community because they came and helped us."

The people who attend the mosque will also be there for the community if necessary.

"We feel the same way, it's mutual. If something happens to them, we are going to rush to them too."

The smile returns and stays as he soaks in the memory of something bad that happened, and something special that followed.

Dale Shrull is managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.

Recommended for you