'Prayer Can't Be Our Only Form Of Defense': Mosques Eye Security For Ramadan

May 4, 2019

The Islamic Society of Colorado Springs meets in a one-story brick building in a residential neighborhood. No domes or minarets. No eye-level windows either.

The group's president, Kamel Elwazeir, says preparations for weekly prayer are key.

"We try to get in early on Friday just to inspect the building on the outside make sure everything is fine," he says. "Nothing has been broken into or nothing suspicious."

Elwazeir says usually if he finds objects left at the mosque's door, though, it's flowers or cards of solidarity or condolence — like the ones that poured in after the recent terror attacks in New Zealand.

He tries not to dwell in fear. Still, he says, the mosque has to be cautious.

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, mosques around the U.S. are preparing to celebrate with recent attacks on synagogues, churches, and other houses of worship still on their minds. They are taking a serious look at security.

"It's truly sickening but it's part of our life," Elwazeir says. "It's part of our society that we have to be prepared in case of an emergency."

Elwazeir pulls out his phone and opens an app connected to several surveillance cameras around the property.

"If there's anything [that] triggers movement in the middle of the night or during unusual hours," he says, "this way at least we'll know."

The mosque has also had a few people stay outside the building during prayer services, he says.

Kamel Elwazeir at his Colorado Springs, Colo., mosque.
Ali Budner / KRCC

"Many times we have police presence outside," he says, "We have other measures of security it's just, you know, not a good idea to discuss them publicly."

Security is also a concern for the Colorado Muslim Society based in Aurora, Colo., where Iman Jodeh says she's been thinking a lot about safety logistics. She says that attendance dropped off for several weeks right after the New Zealand attacks, but they are back at full attendance now.

"Obviously just understanding how much I am able to divulge to the public around this topic is difficult," she says. "And I have to put the safety of our congregation first."

Jodeh says people aren't letting the recent attacks dull their excitement over celebrating the holy month. "I don't think any amount of violence or threat level will ever be able to take that away from us," she says.

Even as a religious community, we realize that prayer can't be our only form of defense. - Iman Jodeh

And yet, safety is a real concern for the families worshipping here.

"Even as a religious community, we realize that prayer can't be our only form of defense," she says.

They've partnered with law enforcement to get safety training, including active shooter training. And now they've opened those to other religious leaders.

Jay Sherwood, the rabbi at Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a member of the local interfaith council, says real tangible safety precautions are critical these days. But he says beyond that, ordinary people just need to start standing up for what's right.

"We live in a world that is filled with a lot of hate speech and it comes from our politicians and it comes from community leaders," he says. "And it's not just in Colorado and it's not just in America."

"When you hear hate speech, stop it. That means if you hear it from your teacher, if you hear it from your child, if you hear it from the person in the booth next to you in the restaurant," she says. "If we stop hate speech at least that's one little step in the right direction."

And Sherwood says that's a direction in which all communities of faith need to move.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins tomorrow evening, and mosques around the country are focused on security in the aftermath of the New Zealand massacres and attacks on synagogues, churches and other houses of worship here in the U.S. From Colorado Springs, Ali Budner of member station KRCC reports on how mosques there are preparing to celebrate Ramadan with safety in mind.

ALI BUDNER, BYLINE: The Islamic Society of Colorado Springs meets in a one-story brick building in a residential neighborhood - no domes or minarets, no eye-level windows, either.

KAMEL ELWAZEIR: So welcome to the mosque.

BUDNER: Kamel Elwazeir is the group's president. And he says preparations for weekly prayer are key.

ELWAZEIR: We try to get in early on Friday just to inspect the building on the outside and make sure everything is fine, nothing has been broken into or nothing suspicious.

BUDNER: Elwazeir says usually if he finds objects left at the mosque's door, though, it's flowers or cards of solidarity or condolence, like the ones that poured in after the recent terror attacks in New Zealand. And he tries not to dwell in fear. But still, he says, the mosque has to be cautious.

ELWAZEIR: It was truly sickening, but it's part of our life. It's part of our society that we have to be prepared in case of an emergency.

BUDNER: Elwazeir pulls his phone out of his pocket and shows me an app connected to several surveillance cameras around the property.

ELWAZEIR: If there's anything triggers movement in the middle of the night or during unusual hours, this way, at least we'll know.

BUDNER: And he says the mosque has a few people stay outside the building during prayer services.

ELWAZEIR: Many times, we have police presence outside. We have other measures of security. It's just, you know, not a good idea to discuss them publicly.

BUDNER: That's also a concern for the Colorado Muslim Society based in Aurora, Colo., where Iman Jodeh says she's been thinking a lot about safety logistics.

IMAN JODEH: Obviously, just understanding how much I am able to divulge to the public around this topic is difficult. And I have to put the safety of our congregation first.

BUDNER: She does say attendance dropped off for several weeks right after the New Zealand attacks.

JODEH: We're back at full attendance now. We are ramping up for Ramadan, which is our holiest month in the lunar calendar. And people are excited for that, you know? And I don't think any amount of violence or threat level will ever be able to take that away from us.

BUDNER: And yet, safety is a real concern for the families worshiping here.

JODEH: Even as a religious community, we realize that prayer can't be our only form of defense.

BUDNER: They've partnered with law enforcement to get safety trainings, including active-shooter trainings. And now they've opened those to other religious leaders.

JODEH: It's not just the Muslim community. We're feeling this need to step up and protect our parishioners.

JAY SHERWOOD: We live in a world that is filled with a lot of hate speech. And it comes from our politicians. And it comes from community leaders. And it's not just in Colorado. And it's not just in America.

BUDNER: Jay Sherwood is the rabbi at Temple Shalom in Colorado Springs and a member of the local interfaith council here. Sherwood says real, tangible safety precautions are critical these days. But he says beyond that, ordinary people just need to start standing up for what's right.

SHERWOOD: When you hear hate speech, stop it. That means if you hear it from your teacher, if you hear it from your child, if you hear it from the person in the booth next to you at the restaurant. If we stop hate speech, at least that's one little step in the right direction.

BUDNER: And Sherwood says that's a direction in which all communities of faith need to move.

For NPR News, I'm Ali Budner in Colorado Springs.

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