Local Muslims optimistic as fire investigation continues

Four Points News

Members of the Islamic Center of Lake Travis remain optimistic notwithstanding an early morning fire on Jan. 7 that destroyed their future community center, said Shakeel Rashed, ICLT board member.

“Our community has always been very open and optimistic, and we remain the same through this moment of difficulty, especially with all the love and support we have received during this time,” said Rashed, a Steiner Ranch resident.

On Sunday, Solidarity with the Community was held by ICLT and Lake Travis United Methodist Church to show unanimity among the community regardless of individual affiliations. Representatives from all religious groups were invited, including Jews, Christians, Muslims and all other faiths. The Travis County Fire Marshal Tony Callaway and others also spoke at the event.

The two-story Islamic Center of Lake Travis was about 2,700-square-feet and was phase 1 of the planned community center.

The cause of the fire, in the 4700 block of Doss Road in Hudson Bend, is still under investigation by the office of Travis County Fire Marshal.

“We have sent away various items for testing and cannot officially rule it an accident because tests need to come back. We want answers quickly, but the process is not quick,” said Kristin Dark, spokesperson for the fire marshal’s office.

Nevertheless, the investigation is receiving priority attention because the ruined building is a faith-based structure. “The testing lab is putting it as a priority because of the nature of the building. Tony asked them to and they said ‘yes’,” Dark said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also aware of the matter. “The FBI was notified because of the hate crime possibility. Anytime a religious building is burned, the FBI is notified,” Dark said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also came in with heavy equipment to assist local investigators.

In addition to going through the structure’s remaining rubble, officials have compiled surveillance video, putting together events leading up to the fire. “They are looking to see if anybody or any vehicles were on the premises that night,” Dark said.

In the meantime, about $11,500 has been collected through a GoFundMe page entitled, “Rebuild the Islamic Center of LT”.

Ironically, it was the 2011 Steiner Ranch fires that galvanized the local Muslim community. “As a group, we helped with the cleanup process and raised funds. The Steiner Ranch fires helped us realize we were growing in numbers and could help positively with the community,” Rashed said.

“We also realized that our kids needed to learn more about Islam and its values so we started off with a Sunday school right after,” he added.

The Four Points area has more than 50 Muslim families who have been meeting in various member homes for Sunday school. Most of their prayer meetings, held in the month of Ramadan, have been at Hudson Bend Middle School for the last three years, Rashed said.

“We realized the need for a community center in 2012. We have been reviewing sites since 2013, and construction began in late spring of 2016,” he said.

The destroyed building, a two-story structure of about 2,700-square-feet, was phase 1 of the planned community center. It was insured, and mosque leaders are working with the insurance company on the matter.

To contribute to the rebuilding of the ICLT, go to  www.gofundme.com/rebuild-islamic-center-of-lt