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

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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.

"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.

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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