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U.S. mosques have been especially concerned about security since the Hamas attacks


Many American Muslims are on heightened alert. The killing of a small child outside Chicago, combined with reverberations from the violence in Gaza and Israel, are raising real concerns about safety. NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose reports on how Muslim communities are responding.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Worries about safety aren't new to Islam.

SALAM AL-MARAYATI: In the Quran itself, God tells us that if we're ever under threat, that not all of us should just go rush to prayer.

DEROSE: Salam Al-Marayati is president of the national advocacy group Muslim Public Affairs Council.

AL-MARAYATI: It tells us, some of us pray, and the rest of us stand guard to protect the worshippers. And then when that group is finished praying, then we switch.

DEROSE: An admonition that's both practical and reassuring. Al-Marayati says the leaders of every mosque in America take the safety of worshippers seriously.

AL-MARAYATI: We don't want everybody to walk in concerned and anxious and thinking of the worst-case scenario. We want them to walk in feeling a sense of spirituality, feeling a sense of community.

DEROSE: To that end, many mosques have invested heavily in measures such as gates, locks and intercoms. While there haven't been any known attacks on mosques in the U.S. recently, the Islamic Center of Southern California has increased the number of security guards, especially at Friday prayers, when a thousand or more people are in the building.

AL-MARAYATI: The security system is back here.

DEROSE: Al-Marayati is showing off the nearly 50-camera array that watches over the Islamic Center's downtown Los Angeles campus, necessary because of a history of threats, including slurs spray-painted on the building's white columns.

ZEINAB RAAD: And we see every area of the building.

DEROSE: Office coordinator Zeinab Raad checks the monitors regularly, looking for vandalism. If she sees any, she calls in the mosque's administrators and the police.

RAAD: We would go through the security footage together to see if there was any footage for that event, and then most likely there is. We could see it.

DEROSE: Raad takes seriously the safety of those who come here to learn and pray.

RAAD: Big chunk of my day is, honestly, looking and making sure that not only is the security OK, but the parameters of this building are OK. It's our responsibility, as people who work at the center, to just ensure that there is safety always.

AMR SHABAIK: These aren't institutions that are necessarily flush with cash. Mosques that may be in more marginalized communities, underrepresented communities, they probably don't have the resources.

DEROSE: Amr Shabaik is legal and policy director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in California. Federal and state grants can help houses of worship pay for some things, and California is making money available to local law enforcement to help pay for overtime patrolling places like mosques and synagogues. But Shabaik says there's another cost that's harder to bear.

SHABAIK: So there is a real palpable fear of safety. There is a real tenor that has reminded the community of sort of a post-9/11 environment where our community is being stereotyped and scapegoated.

DEROSE: Which many worry will cause Muslims to stay home. Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council says that's painful because in community, there should be safety. It reminds him of a story about the prophet Abraham.

AL-MARAYATI: He said, I pray for the security and prosperity of my future generations so they don't fear poverty, they don't fear hunger and they don't fear being under threat all the time.

DEROSE: Freedoms Al-Marayati wishes every Muslim American could enjoy.

Jason DeRose, NPR News, Los Angeles.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.