A fire erupted at a mosque in Houston, Texas, on Christmas Day and authorities believe it may have been some kind of hate crime. The fire started in multiple places on the mosque property and appears to have been set deliberately.

The fire happened at the Islamic Center of Houston just after prayers were said last Friday. Fortunately, the church was almost empty when the flames erupted and no one was hurt.

Eighty firefighters reported to fight the fire at the Houston-area strip mall where the mosque is located.

Was This a Hate Crime?

According to Nicole Strong, a special agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it's still too soon to know what may have caused the fire.

However, recent attacks by Islamic State terrorists in California and France have set many on edge, bringing anti-Muslim anger to the forefront. Even many Republican presidential candidates have been making public statements against Muslims in general -- not just fanatical Muslims who belong to terrorist sects. It is suspected that this apparently deliberate fire may have been set as a hate crime against Muslims.

Hate Crimes Against Muslims on the Rise

The Council on American-Islamic Relations keeps records on hate crimes against Muslims in the United States. The Council says that damage, vandalism and incidents of intimidation against Muslims at U.S. mosques have been on the rise. They say that 2015 was the worst year of such incidents since it started recording statistics.

Any hate-inspired criminal act of intimidation, vandalism, damage or violence is punishable in criminal court. Those who caused this fire in Houston could be put in prison for many years if they are identified, captured and convicted of their crimes. They could also be held liable in civil court for the financial and property damages their actions caused.