U.S. Muslims Say They Refuse To Be Intimidated After New Zealand Attacks

Mar 15, 2019
Originally published on March 15, 2019 4:35 pm
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The Homeland Security secretary says there are no current credible threats against Muslim communities in the U.S., but today there was a heightened police presence at mosques across the country. And as NPR's Joel Rose reports, Muslims turned out for prayers and said they refused to be intimidated.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: There was a heavy and visible police presence outside New York's biggest mosque, but the Islamic Cultural Center of New York opened its doors wide and even spread prayer mats in the courtyard for an overflow crowd. Muslims from all corners of New York and the world removed their shoes and gathered for Friday prayers. Reem Alsabski (ph) was visiting from Toronto, where she's a doctor. She felt it was important to attend prayers at the mosque today after she heard about the attack in New Zealand.

REEM ALSABSKI: Because we're not going to be afraid to come to our prayer places. Everyone should feel safe where they pray.

ROSE: Alsabski recalls a similar attack in Canada in 2017, when a gunman opened fire at a mosque in Quebec City.

ALSABSKI: Unfortunately, every time I go to the mosque, even in Canada, in downtown Toronto, I think about it - is it safe to bring my kids or not?

ROSE: But you bring them?

ALSABSKI: I do. I do because I can't live in fear.

ROSE: Borhan Ugerol (ph) didn't want to miss Friday prayers, either. He drives a taxi in New York City. Ugerol says the shooters in the New Zealand attack should be considered terrorists.

BORHAN UGEROL: Terror has no nationality. Terror has no religion. Nobody can say this is Islamic terror, this is Catholic terror. Terror is terror.

ROSE: Faith leaders of other religions stopped by the mosque to offer their condolences. Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove of the nearby Park Avenue Synagogue brought a massive bouquet of white flowers. Cosgrove says his congregation hasn't forgotten the shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh last year.

ELLIOT COSGROVE: Our houses of worship should be places of safety. And the Jewish community knows, with the Pittsburgh shooting, what it means to have the promise of synagogue ripped out from under you.

ROSE: Across the country, Muslim leaders warned of the rise of hate speech and Islamophobia. Nihad Awad is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

NIHAD AWAD: We tell our community, do not be afraid and do not abandon your mosques. They want you to be afraid. You should not be afraid. You should be protected.

ROSE: A few years ago, the council released a set of recommendations for how mosques can protect themselves. They turned for help to Gerard Busnuk. He's a security consultant and a former Baltimore police officer.

GERARD BUSNUK: The most important thing is awareness. You've got to have a plan. For religious institutions, you've got to have volunteers, or ushers, or police or security guards. You have to have them extend your perimeter, so to speak.

ROSE: Now many mosques, like other houses of worship, are thinking again about how to keep their congregations safe. Joel Rose, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.