by Jen Hayden
In October 2016, Abraham Davis made a bad decision to drive two friends to a nearby mosque so they could vandalize the building with swastikas and hateful messages. Security cameras at the Masjid Al Salam mosque in Fort Smith, Arkansas, caught them in the act and they were eventually arrested.
Faced with instant regret, Davis eventually turned himself in to face charges and sent a letter of apology to the Masjid Al Salam mosque. The letter and the response prompted a superb New York Times article about the vandalism, the Fort Smith community and the Masjid Al Salam Mosque.
“Dear Masjid Al Salam Mosque,” Abraham wrote. “I know you guys probably don’t want to hear from me at all but I really want to get this to y’all. I’m so sorry about having a hand in vandalising your mosque. It was wrong and y’all did not deserve to have that done to you. I hurt y’all and I am haunted by it. And even after all this you still forgave me. You are much better people than I.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, and that is honestly really scary. But I just wouldn’t want to keep going on without trying to make amends. I wish I could undo the pain I helped to cause. I used to walk by your mosque a lot and ask myself why I would do that. I don’t even hate Muslims. Or anyone for that matter.
“All in all,” he concluded, “I just want to say I’m sorry.”
Mosque President of Al Salam Louay Nassri and members of the mosque were so moved, they lobbied for the charges against Abraham Davis to be dropped. Davis was convicted of a felony and faced “around $3,200 in fines and restitution.” After struggling to pay off the debt, Davis got a heart-pumping surprise—members of the mosque paid off his fines. From the New York Times:
Five months later, that worry was wiped away, when Hisham Yasin, the mosque’s lively social director, climbed the stairs of the courthouse with a cashier’s check. That was what had left Abraham speechless next to the Christmas tree.
“There’s no words,” he said, his hands covering his face. “English. Find it.”
Some weeks back, Hisham had called me to say that the mosque had received a generous donation from the Jay Pritzker Foundation. No one at Al Salam had ever heard of the foundation, and they thought at first that it was a rip-off scheme — one of those send-me-your-bank-account-number-and-we’ll-send-you-a-million-dollars ruses. A bit of Googling told them otherwise. Now they wanted to spread the good will: They had decided to pay off Abraham’s court fines.
Abraham’s life had come crashing into theirs. They were now linked. They could not leave him behind.
Mosque President of Al Salam Louay Nassri said they had no desire to see Abraham Davis go to jail. From Arkansas Matters:
“We heard that he was having financial problems,” Nassri said. “Now if you don’t pay your fine, that’s an automatic six years in jail. Well, we didn’t want him to go to jail for six years.”
So just before the new year arrives, president of Al Salam Louay Nassri decided to write a check for one-thousand seven hundred dollars to wipe away the rest of Davis’ fines.
“After all that he had been through, we didn’t want him sitting on the severe financial stress,” Nassri said. “And like I told him, we want him to have a much better future.”
Thank you to the members of the Masjid Al Salam mosque for giving us all a lesson in forgiveness. This is a fantastic way to start the 2018—with purpose and forgiveness.