Somi Babar huddled Thursday morning with a group of mothers, peering at the white exterior walls of the Louisville Islamic Center.
The night before, someone had scrawled in red spray paint a series of graffiti attacking Islam, Babar’s faith.
Some of the women fought back tears. But Babar said the messages — while hateful and hurtful — will help her teach her two young sons about forgiveness and compassion.
Indian Hills Police are investigating the incident, and Louisville Metro Police has offered its assistance. The FBI may investigate the vandalism as a hate crime, said Louisville Police Chief Steve Conrad.
Babar, echoing the sentiments of nearly everyone at the gathering Thursday morning, said the messages will strengthen Louisville’s Muslim community.
She said she’ll bring her sons, both 8-years-old, to see the messages Friday evening during an event at the River Road building to clean-up the vandalism. She wants them to see the messages.
“So they can learn from this — not run away from it,” she said.
Babar said it’s important to explain to young children that the messages do not reflect the ideals of any entire culture — that the messages are only the opinion of a small faction.
“This does not represent the entire Jewish culture, Christian culture or Muslim culture,” she said.
She said she expects the conversations with her children to be difficult. But it’s necessary.
She showed her sons photos of the vandalism Wednesday evening. They were openly afraid about returning to the mosque.
For children, the Islamic Center isn’t just a place of worship, it’s a place to play, eat and feel comfortable, she said.
“We are very connected to our mosque,” she said.
But she said she believes it’s important to not shield her children from the world, even when it’s a hateful place.
Showing her children the messages — explaining that reacting with forgiveness is the proper response — will help teach them to bring more love and compassion into the world, she said.
Tarik Adam has not told his 9-year-old daughter about the vandalism. They both frequent the mosque for prayer and worship services.
Adam, 29, said he’ll likely bring his daughter to the mosque Friday during the cleanup. The event, which is expected to draw hundreds of residents of all faiths, will be a positive atmosphere and help show his daughter that forgiveness can trump anger, he said.
On Thursday morning, Mayor Greg Fischer and other city leaders denounced the vandalism.
Adam said hate is something all children will eventually be exposed to. It’s inescapable, he said.
“These are just isolated events,” he said. He believes whoever committed the vandalism was likely looking to stir negative emotions. Instead, the message has helped strengthen the community, he said.
While young children need explanation, older children should be included in a dialogue, said Shamila Zuberi, who has a 16-year-old son. Her son said he felt “violated” after seeing what the vandals did to the mosque.
Seeing the hateful messages can make a teenager disconnect, Zuberi said.
“With them, you need to sit down, have a chat and ask, ‘How do you feel about it,'” she said.
The most important thing, the mothers say, is to ensure their children know to react with compassion, not anger. Anger, they say, is counterproductive.
“You have to have forgiveness in your heart,” said Babar. “You just have to fight back with love.”