By Mike Nolan And Donna Vickroy
Updated: March 27, 2014 2:08AM
A day after a bullet tore through the dome of an Orland Park mosque, churches in the area were expressing concern over the incident and showing their support for members of the Prayer Center.
Whether or not the shot was fired intentionally in a display of hate hasn’t been determined, and Orland Park police will return to the mosque to take measurements they hope will show the bullet’s direction.
The bullet likely is lodged in the dome of the mosque, 16530 104th Ave., and police won’t try to retrieve it because doing so would cause extensive damage to the dome, Chief Tim McCarthy said Wednesday. The original dome was installed in January 2006, just months before the mosque opened, and was replaced last year, according to Malik Ali, the mosque’s vice president and one of the Prayer Center’s early backers.
Ali said Wednesday that since the incident, he’d received dozens of emails and phone calls from area churches, synagogues and businesses, all conveying their distress over the shooting. He said some church pastors were considering touching on the shooting during their sermons this weekend.
Although the shooting had left some mosque members shaken, it didn’t appear to have affected attendance at prayer services, with “normal” numbers coming for Tuesday evening prayers, Ali said.
On its website Wednesday, the mosque had posted a message that read, in part, “acts of this caliber against one house of worship is an attack on all — we must stand together!”
Pastor Evan Goranson, of Hope Covenant Church in Orland Park, said that was the basic message of his email to Ali, assuring the mosque’s members that “other faith communities” in the village are standing behind them in their desire to “worship in the way they want to without interference.”
“Religious freedom is for everybody,” Goranson said Wednesday.
It was a sentiment also in the heart of mosque member Mohammad Hamdan, of Orland Park, who said the incident made him nervous but not enough to keep him from coming to Wednesday’s 5:20 prayer service.
“Faith is freedom, right?” he said.
If the bullet was fired intentionally, Hamdan said, it was difficult to understand the motivation.
“We welcome everyone here,” he said. “We’re not doing anything wrong. We’re just worshipping, just like people do at churches.”
Ahmed Mustafa, a youth activist at the center, said if the shot was fired out of bigotry, “then that is sad and disappointing.”
“Bigotry has no place in this community,” Mustafa said. “If the goal was to put fear in our hearts, it is not working.”
Like Ali, he was also heartened by the fact that so many other churches and synagogues have reached out in support of the mosque following the shooting.
“The Founding Fathers built this nation for every faith,” he said. “We all came to America for the same reason. We just came a little later.”
Ron Citlau, pastor of Calvary Church, just north of the mosque, said he’d contacted Ali to say “we were deeply saddened that someone would do such a thing” and that “we were standing with them.”
Police investigation continues
Following the shooting, the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations had called on the FBI to investigate it as a hate crime. McCarthy said Wednesday he’s spoken with the bureau, and that although it’s not involved in the investigation, “we are keeping them apprised” of the department’s probe.
While police can’t remove the bullet from the dome without causing damage, evidence technicians will be examining two holes in the dome to get a better idea of the bullet’s trajectory, he said.
Noting the highly visible police presence outside the mosque since the shooting occurred, Ali said that Orland Park police “have been very supportive and have assured us they will not leave a stone unturned” in their investigation.
While the message on the Prayer Center’s website describes the incident as “hideous crimes,” Ali said that at this stage he’s hesitant to describe the shooting as a deliberate act.
“Everybody has to be cautious,” he said. “A lot of our people (Muslims) have been falsely accused (in the past).”
Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin also was warning against a rush to judgment, while describing “incidents like this” as “very scary and deeply disturbing to me and every responsible person in our community.”
“Let’s not prejudge what actually happened or draw any false conclusions before all the facts are in,” he said in a statement.
McLaughlin pointed out that in the past “we have had occasional incidents involving illegal hunting and shots that have gone astray,” and that it was unwise to “make assumptions.”
Although plans for Prayer Center, when first proposed in 2004, were met with fierce opposition, Ali said the mosque has served as “more of a bridge-builder than anything else,” helping link the Muslim faithful with the community and other churches. Rather than being shaken by the shooting, the bond is being made stronger, he said.
“If anything, this will strengthen our connections with each other,” Ali said.