Just days after a fire destroyed a mosque in Victoria, Texas, a GoFundMe page set up by a mosque member has raised nearly $1 million to help rebuild the mosque -- a response the congregation's president called shocking and "beautiful."
The fire at the Islamic Center of Victoria was reported around 2 a.m. Saturday when a store clerk at a nearby convenience store noticed heavy smoke coming from the building, according to O.C. Garza, communications director for the city of Victoria. It took crews about four hours to extinguish the blaze, Garza told ABC News. Only the mosque's outside facade survived.
The cause of the blaze is under investigation, Garza said, and footage from surveillance cameras retrieved from the site will be used in the investigation.
Omar Rachid, a member of the congregation for 23 years, told ABC News he received a call in the middle of the night about the fire. He immediately drove over to the burning building to assess the damage.
"After the shock of seeing the mosque burning at 3 in the morning," he said, "it became clear we needed to have an action plan ... a quick action plan in place to provide us some funding so we can start the rebuilding process."
Rachid launched a GoFundMe page that has raised over $971,000 so far. More than 20,000 people donated to the cause.
The president of the Islamic center, Shahid Hashmi, told ABC News that the mosque did not have insurance and that he was shocked by the generosity of the GoFundMe donors, calling it a "beautiful response."
Rachid added: "I never thought that it would really raise that much. I knew that people would respond and I knew that it would have some traction, I just never imagined it would have that kind of response."
Rachid said the mosque was built in 2000; prior to that, the congregation used a rental home. He said building the mosque in 2000 gave members "a little bit more of an identity, a presence. And gives you a sense of belonging in a community."
According to Rachid, the Islamic Center of Victoria hosted study groups for people with different religions so that they would better understand Islam. Non-members would stop by the mosque to share a meal during Ramadan, and every Friday evening the center would host a potluck dinner for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
"A lot of fellowship education and information [was] shared at the mosque," he said. "It's not just a building of worship, [it's] also a place of interfaith understanding, and it just gives you a sense of belonging in the community when you have a place of worship that is known."
The congregation plans to rebuild the mosque at its current site, Hashmi said. In the meantime, he and other members will meet in a mobile home next to the destroyed mosque.