Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Bad news for the Muslim community in Geelong. The former Uniting Church was sold to become a mosque twenty-three years ago and there has been a harmonious relationship in our community across religious groups. Perhaps the arsonists didn't even know it was a mosque because it still looks like a Christian church in design. It's a shame for all of us.
Police urged anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
The Imam, his wife and three children — who live at the mosque site — were evacuated.
A SUSPICIOUS fire that destroyed a Geelong mosque is the fifth church fire in the city since last October.
The bluestone building was fully alight when Country Fire Authority crews arrived about 2.10am this morning.
The fire is being considered suspicious and is one of a number of church blazes in Geelong in recent months.
Matt, who lives across the road from the mosque, told 3AW he heard a loud bang about 2.15am.
“There was a loud bang, the sky was alight ... bright orange,” he said.
“For the first hour or so it was crazy, lots of smoke and embers, stuff falling off the roof.”
Mohammad Ramzan didn’t know what was happening when he was woken about 2am.
“We thought it was a storm or the bin collection truck banging the bins,” he told 3AW.
“We saw a light and it was very light. Our beautiful mosque, our heritage listed building was blazing.”
Mr Ramzan said the mosque hadn’t attracted any negative attention in the community.
“In 23 years we did not have any trouble, rather we have compliments,” he said.
“We have a very love based relationship with the neighbourhood. We haven’t received any threats. We have a very nice and good relationship with everyone.”
He said the mosque would operate out of a hall at the site, which was unscathed in the fire.
“There’s been no acts of violence against people of Muslim faith (in Geelong),” he said.
“They’re a harmonious community. This is a mosque where people of all backgrounds come to worship.
Insp Banks said the Manifold Heights building was previously a church and not easily identifiable as a mosque.
Police have stepped up patrols around churches in the region following a spate of fires.
Churches in Norlane, Bannockburn and Geelong West have gone up in flames in recent months.
Police are also in regular contact with Geelong’s interfaith community, providing safety advice.
Arson chemists are waiting on the area to be secured before they investigate this morning.
“It’s got to be made safe,” Insp Banks said.
The site is the only mosque in the Geelong area.
CFA duty officer Mark Sinkinson said the bluestone walls worked in the firefighter’s favour.
“Our crews did a great job keeping (the fire) inside there, we did have the advantage of having those heavy bluestone walls to stop the spread of fire,” he told 3AW.
“At this stage it is suspicious. We are working with Victoria Police in regards to the investigation.”
Mr Sinkinson said only the walls remained at the mosque site.
“The walls are the only thing standing. Obviously the roof has come down and everything inside has totalled off.”
“We weren’t on the scene when the loud bang occurred. When our guys did get there, there was a fair bit of fire coming out of the roof.”
The building is the base for the Islamic Society of Geelong.
There were no reported injuries.
Ambulance Victoria was called and remained on standby, but did not treat anyone.
It took 35 to 40 firefighters about 50 minutes to bring the Manifold Heights fire under control.
Seven trucks from Corio, Geelong West and Geelong City were called to the scene.
The Bostock Ave bluestone building was formerly a church.
CFA said it did not know how the fire started.
Fire investigators and police will be on scene this morning to determine the cause.