Valley mosques on high alert after Orlando massacre

Posted at 10:47 PM, Jun 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-14 01:47:06-04

Even though it happened more than 2,000 miles away, Valley area Muslims are beefing up security at mosques after the Orlando nightclub massacre and telling each other to be on high alert.

The tragedy comes at a sensitive time for Muslims, during the holy month of Ramadan-- a time for prayer, reflection and spirituality.

Usama Shami, a spokesman for the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, expressed outrage and condemned the mass shooting in Orlando, done in the name of religion.

Shami said it baffled him that a so-called Muslim would choose this time to commit a heinous act.

"Supposedly the person that committed this claims to be a Muslim. This is a month of forgiveness and charity. I don't know what he was practicing," Shami said.

Azra Hussain, the president and co-founder of the Islamic Speakers Bureau, stresses that ISIS is not Islam.

"We grieve with our fellow Americans who went through this tragedy, actually, this heinous act. It is very difficult for the Muslim community to feel that they are going to, again, be blamed for what happened," Hussain said.

The Arizona Muslim Police Advisory Board was formed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to foster relations between Muslims and the local law enforcement community.

Shami said they were already talking to police and sheriff's officials about beefing up security at mosques during the busy month of Ramadan, when prayer services and gatherings are held at mosques almost every night. He added that people could expect to see extra security and patrol cars at the big prayer services. They hope to be proactive, rather than reactive.

Someone broke out the windows of the Islamic center in Phoenix last winter, and some local Muslims were already getting hate mail from people attacking their faith.

Hussain said she heard of a Phoenix woman getting verbally assaulted at Costco while on her way to the candle light vigil to honor the victims of the Orlando shooting Monday night.

"We just finished installing a security system with cameras that cost over $20,000 in the mosque. We have volunteers locking our gates when the parking lot is full," Shami said.

Inside the prayer halls, ISIS was a hot topic. The Islamic Center of Phoenix openly condemned ISIS on its website, pleading with those who had turned away from the faith to repent and return to the true Islam.

Local Muslim advocates are getting ready to launch a program targeting youth, letting them know ISIS is not the way. Knowing ISIS was using social media to recruit, they hoped to fight back using education as their choice of weapon.

"If we let ISIS or Daesh get what they're looking for, which is try to separate American Muslims from mainstream American society, if they get to do that, they win," Hussain said.

With the Phoenix mosque located right off Interstate 17, Shami said they often get visitors just stopping in for prayer.

"We always worry about a lone wolf coming to the mosque. Not just this mosque, but any other mosque or house of worship. If somebody is out of line or making out-of-line comments, we call the police, even if he is Muslim, and we have done that a few times," Shami said.

Muslim leaders are asking their community to be ready to face questions and even criticism from those who do not understand their faith. Shami said he urges all Muslims to respond with kindness and patience, even if they were asked the same question several times.

"Even if you are feeling insulted, you respond in kindness," Shami said.