Muslims in the U.S. have faced an increase in attacks targeting their communities. The advocacy group, the Council on American Islamic Relations, found anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States went up 44 percent in 2016.
Several mosques have improved security in the wake of recent attacks targeting Islamic places of worship.
CGTN’s Steve Mort reports from Orlando, Florida.
Worshipers at a mosque near Miami have been taught how to fend off attackers and deal with threats.
“Safety is about being aware, having a plan and having practiced that plan,” Regional Operations Director, CAIR Florida, Nezar Hamze said.
Within the last year, two Florida mosques experienced arson attacks, including the one in Orlando where nightclub shooter Omar Mateen once prayed. “We’ve had members of the community shot at, we’ve had members of the community beat up,” Hamze said.
CAIR said it has recorded more than 130 hate crimes so far this year. That nearly double the incidents documented during the same period in 2016. These trainings, organizers said, are constantly evolving based on events, such as the attack last month on London’s Finsbury Park mosque.
The Masjid ul Mumineen mosque in Orlando, Florida is protected by a razor wire fence. The gate remains locked, and members are often protected by off duty police officers. The American Civil Liberties Union said Florida has one of the highest rates of violence in the United States targeting mosques. It blames terrorist attacks such as the bombing of a stadium in Manchester this year for a spike in anti-Muslim sentiment.
“We are very concerned about the safety of those who worship. These are soft targets,” Islamic Society of Central Florida President, Imam Muhammad Musri said. His mosque deploys volunteers during prayer services to keep watch for threats. “We are coordinating with the law enforcement community, making sure that if they know something they tell us, if we know something we tell them,” Musri said.
Other religious minorities in the U.S. have also faced security challenges. The U.S. Anti-Defamation League said incidents targeting Jews jumped by more than a third last year and will likely exceed that rate this year.
Despite the statistics and heightened fears in the Muslim community, a recent Pew study found that Americans’ feelings towards Muslims have warmed over the last three years. But the survey still shows the community is viewed less favorably than other religious groups.