A few weeks after the three men responsible for vandalizing an Arkansas mosque were caught in February, 2017, Dr. Louay Nassri was finishing up Friday prayers when he heard a knock at the door.
Before him stood a well-dressed young man who removed his boots before stepping inside the place of worship. Noah Davis told Dr. Nassri, the president of the mosque, that his brother Abraham had participated in the vandalism. He then delivered a letter that his brother wrote to the mosque from his jail cell.
In the letter, Abraham Davis sought forgiveness for what he had done to the mosque in October, 2016.
“It was a very sincere letter. He showed remorse. He was very apologetic. He said ‘You don’t deserve this and I never wanted to do this,’” Dr. Nassri recalled to CTVNews.ca in a phone interview from Fort Smith, Ark. on Wednesday. “I was surprised by it.”
On the night of Oct. 20, 2016, Davis and two friends spray-painted the front of the Al Salam mosque in Fort Smith, Ark. with swastikas, foul language and the words “Go home. We don’t want you here.”
About six months later, police tracked down all three suspects with the help of the mosque’s security cameras and arrested them.
Thanks to Davis’ apologetic letter, Dr. Nassri, a pediatric pulmonologist who has lived in the town for 37 years, decided, along with other members of the mosque, to advocate on his behalf. The mosque asked the prosecuting attorney to tell the judge that the Islamic community is asking for forgiveness and mercy for Davis.
Dr. Nassri said the mosque’s members had forgiven Davis, who stood watch while one of the other men spray painted the graffiti, and didn’t want this one mistake to ruin the rest of his life.
Despite the mosque’s intervention, the young men were charged with felony offenses and given suspended sentences, which required them to obey the conditions of their parole, complete community service and pay a fine of more than $3,000 or face six years in prison.
In the fall, Dr. Nassri said the mosque learned that Davis was struggling to meet his monthly payments for the fine, even though he had landed a job at a local gas station.
“We heard the family was in very bad financial trouble. They were evicted from their house,” Dr. Nassri said. “They have a whole lot of pressures and on top of it, this financial pressure. We wanted to relieve the financial pressure on the family.”
In the days after the mosque was vandalized, Dr. Nassri said the community rallied together to support them by sending them kind messages, cards, flowers and donations. He said every single religious denomination reached out to them, including a Jewish organization called the Pritzker Foundation, that donated $25,000. With the help of that donation, Dr. Nassri gave the court a cheque for $1,700 to pay off the remaining balance on Davis’ fine on Dec. 11.
Dr. Nassri sent Davis a message that said the fine had been paid and that the mosque wants him to have a much better future. In response, Davis left a voicemail expressing his shock and gratitude.
“He said, ‘I have a lot of kinks in my brain. I have to work on it,’” Dr. Nassri recalled.