May 15, 2019
On Tuesday morning, we learned that New Haven Fire Chief John Alston has concluded that the weekend fire at Diyanet Mosque in New Haven was intentionally set. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but damage to the mosque was considerable. The fire was set during the early days of Ramadan, which only underscores what was likely the violent intent and the religious bigotry that prompted such an act. We recoil from such expressions of hatred, even as we denounce them.
The faithful who attend services at houses of worship refer to them as sanctuaries. Calling them “sanctuaries” (from the Latin, sanctus, holy) is a way of placing them in the midst of the hurting and needful world and, at the same time, setting them apart. A sanctuary is intended to be a safe haven, a place of refuge where the gathered community can be at peace with one another and with God. Setting fire to such a place is a particularly heinous act.
As Dean Sterling wrote in March following the horrific mosque attacks in New Zealand, violence at houses of worship underscores the disturbing reality that many in society have lost their sense of the sacred. A sanctuary meant nothing to the white supremacist who entered Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015 and murdered nine members of the church, or to the shooter who murdered 11 congregants and wounded six others in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, or to the racist who slaughtered 50 worshippers in the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in New Zealand, or to the suicide bombers who attacked churches in Sri Lanka on Easter. Their motivation, it seems, is the base desire to defile the sacred.
Wherever attacks happen, and whatever form they take, the impact on the faith communities who gather there is enormous. At the same time, the impact is felt far beyond individual faith communities—it extends to all of us who gather for worship in any setting and in every tradition. These events remind us that an attack on one faith community is an attack on all.
Today, we stand in faithful solidarity with our Muslim neighbors in New Haven and beyond. We denounce this atrocity and all those similar atrocities that have preceded it. We invite others to join us in redoubling our efforts to increase interfaith understanding and cooperation.
The opportunity to worship in the safety of a sanctuary should not be a privilege afforded to some; it should be a sacred right offered to all.
Greg Sterling Martin Copenhaver Andrew McGowan Martin Jean