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Church takes in Bellevue Muslim community after arson

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- A neighboring church in Bellevue has given a local Muslim community a place to gather and pray after the community's mosque, the Islamic Center of the Eastside, was destroyed by arson.

Last Saturday crews battled a massive fire that ripped through the Islamic Center of the Eastside. Police arrested a 37-year-old at the scene after they found him lying on the ground near the fire. He was charged with second-degree arson this week.

The Muslim community who gathered at the mosque suddenly had no place to pray. They scrambled and got access to a backroom in the Highland Community Center, but that was only temporary. Luckily, this week their neighbors stepped up.

The Bellevue Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sat next door to the Islamic Center for decades. The church saw this as an opportunity to lend a hand.

This week the church offered its neighbors a large open room (a converted classroom) free of charge for families to gather and pray for as long as they need.

“It’s really very simple,” Church Director of Public Affairs Gordon Wilson said. “It’s just neighbors helping neighbors. Jesus said, ‘Love your neighbor.’ They’re right next door. How can it be more obvious than that?”

The church even left a welcome sign at the front door, along with two large boards covered in messages of hope from members of their congregation.

“It was a surprise, and it was very heartwarming,” Islamic Center board member Shams Pirbhai said. “That means a lot to me and to our whole congregation.”

The Islamic Center community plans to lease a larger space in the next few months, but now they don’t have to rush.

Pirbhai says their community has been blown away by the outpouring of support from families and groups around Bellevue. And this gesture holds a special place.

“They are really good neighbors and really helping us out,” Pirbhai said. “And we appreciate that.”

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