[Anglican Communion News Service] The bishop of Melbourne has stepped in to offer prayer space to Muslims from Geelong, Victoria, whose mosque was destroyed in a suspected arson attack in the early hours of the morning May 18. The blaze, in a former church building, is the fifth suspicious fire to hit places of worship in Geelong in recent months.
The first to be hit was the 140-year-old St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Bannockburn, Geelong, which was destroyed in a fire on Oct. 14 last year. Two churches in the Norlane district of Geelong – St. Peter’s Chains Reformed Episcopal Church of Australia and Norlane Baptist Church – were destroyed on Dec. 5. The last church to be hit was the Geelong Presbyterian Church, which was destroyed on April 15.
Police in Victoria say that they cannot link today’s fire with the four church arsons; but say that there are obvious similarities. They also don’t know if Muslims were the target of today’s attack or whether the arsonists mistook the mosque for a church – Geelong Mosque met in a former Victorian-era bluestone Anglican church.
Following the fire, Bishop of Melbourne Philip Huggins spoke to Imam Mohammad Ramzan and offered the use of the church hall at All Saints’ Church, Newtown, for Friday prayers.
“We want to help in any way we can,” Huggins said. “We appreciate how shocking and distressing the destruction of a place of prayer and community strengthening is. With this common ground between us clearly we would want to reach out and help our Muslim friends continue their devotional life.”
Sheikh Muhammad Saleem from the Victoria Board of Imams said that the support from the wider community had been overwhelming.
“Since this morning we have received many telephone calls from the community leaders in and around Melbourne and Geelong expressing their … overwhelming support,” he told ABC News. “As I was walking to see the mosque, I was quite overwhelmed by the support expressed by the neighboring community.
“I’m very pleased to hear the men and women who live in the neighborhood come forward and ask me personally what we can do, and my answer to them was, ‘Let’s stand together and rebuild it.’”