What It Feels Like When a Mosque Is Threatened
On the day the threat arrived, the congregation of Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah had planned a potluck dinner.
Earlier that afternoon — March 4 — the president of the mosque in Lexington, Ky., found an envelope in the mail from Sheffield, England. Inside was a green index card that read, “An explosive device will be placed at your mosque very soon.”
Waheedah Muhammad, who worships at the mosque, was shocked when she heard about the threat. The congregation is not used to threats and has a strong relationship with the surrounding community. Prior to the threat, neighbors and others had sent the mosque notes of support and donations — a Sunday school class even sent the mosque love notes. “It was just so bizarre that this would happen here where we have a sense — maybe a false sense — of security,” said Ms. Muhammad, who is also the Kentucky chairwoman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah is one of more than a dozen mosques to receive threats since January, according to reports collected by the council. Threats, vandalism and other forms of discrimination targeting mosques in the United States have risen in recent years, from 39 in 2014 to 139 in 2016. The council has also found a more than 50 percent increase in incidents of bias against American Muslims between 2015 and 2016.
The Greenview Madani Center, in Lawrenceville, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, received a handwritten letter reading, “death is waiting for you and your kind” in the mail late last month. Three other mosques in the Atlanta area, and two in Alabama, received emailed threats in February, warning of attacks on Muslims on March 15.
The F.B.I. and local law enforcement agents are investigating the threatening letters and emails to mosques, and police officers in England are also investigating the threat against the Kentucky mosque.
The threats against mosques came as Jewish community centers and other Jewish organizations experienced wave after wave of bomb threats, 134 since Jan. 1. Muslim and Jewish groups have offered one another support as both are targeted; an interfaith group held a prayer rally at a Jewish community center in Birmingham, Ala., last month as an expression of support for Muslims and Jews.
Meanwhile, every mosque should have security cameras, lock its doors or appoint someone to stand guard during daily prayers and post an armed guard during Friday services, said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
While large mosques are accustomed to receiving occasional threats, said Mr. Mitchell, smaller mosques like Greenview may be more rattled by the experience. But overall, most Muslims are responding to the threats with defiance: “Whether anti-Muslim bigots are writing emails from a dark basement or writing policy from down the hall from the Oval Office, they’re not going to scare us away from being proudly and publicly Muslim.”
Concerns about Islamophobia have been rising among congregants at Greenview since President Trump began his campaign, according to Azam Syed, who worships at the mosque. Many congregants are immigrants, and some are from the six countries affected by the president’s new executive order immigration. Mr. Syed criticized the president for failing to speak out against Islamophobia in the United States or against the attack on a Quebec City mosque that killed six people in January.
The Greenview center is raising money to fence its property and install security cameras. Several mosques in the Atlanta area will host open houses on Saturday so that community members can learn more about Muslims and their religion.
“A lot of people might drive past the mosque every day,” said Aisha Yaqoob, who lives in the Atlanta area and is the policy director for the advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “Just come inside and see what it’s all about.”
On March 4, the potluck dinner at Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah went on as planned. While Ms. Muhammad is encouraging congregants to be security-conscious and report anything unusual they notice, she also urges them, “continue to come to the mosque, continue to bring your children to the Sunday school. Let’s keep living as we live.”
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