For the many American Muslims marking the close of Ramadan this week, the last month has been marked by greater-than-ever security precautions at mosques across the country. Amid concerns over a heightened spate of violent hate crimes in the United States and abroad, community leaders and local law enforcement are taking greater precautions to ensure that they are able to practice their faith in peace.
Ahead of Ramadan this year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group disseminated guidelines entitled Best Practices for Mosque and Community Safety that encourage communities to establish working relationships with law enforcement and offers suggestions to be more aware of, and respond to, potential threats. The guidelines, among other things, encourage community members to establish "lines of communication and support" with other faith and minority groups and to build an emergency contact list to use in the event of threats to the community's safety.
"It seems that the New Zealand massacres and the uptick in hate violence had made Muslim Americans more vigilant, especially in rural communities where Muslims are sparse and Islamophobic sentiments are high," says Khaled Beydoun, professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law and author of American Islamophobia, a book excavating and unbraiding the structural roots of anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S.
"This has moved some Imams and mosque leaders to request police protection during Ramadan, and also Eid prayers, which is when mosques have their biggest attendances," Beydoun says.
Since the start of Donald Trump's presidency, CAIR has reported an increased number of Islamophobic hate crimes and other bias incidents. In the first year of the Trump presidency alone, reports of Islamophobic incidents in California, a relative bastion of progressivism, skyrocketed by 82 percent, Pacific Standard reported, citing CAIR data. In 2016, as the presidential campaign ramped up, anti-Muslim hate crimes surpassed post-9/11 levels, with 307 reported incidents, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data. That number dropped to 273 the following year, but remained significantly higher than it had been in recent memory. In 2013 and 2015, there had been 135 and 257 reported incidents, respectively.
Many observe the correlation between Trump's vilification of Muslims and hate crimes. In March, after Trump sent a tweet lambasting Representative Ilhan Omar (D–Minnesota), a bomb threat was called into the Los Angeles hotel where CAIR was hosting an event with the legislator. That and similar incidents have impressed upon CAIR and other community leaders the need to take ample precautions against violent hate crimes.
"Every year since the then-candidate came down the escalator at Trump Tower and declared his candidacy and declared war on immigrants and on Muslims, we have seen this hate speech weaponized and turned into hate incidents," says Eugene Fields, a spokesman for CAIR's Los Angeles chapter. "What happened since then is it's emboldened people to come out of their bigotry closets and be openly bigoted."
Fields says that, at the roughly 90 mosques in the Greater Los Angeles area, there was no marked increase in hate incidents this Ramadan. Across the county, "law enforcement took it upon themselves to reach out to Muslim communities and do extra patrols," he says. "We are very appreciative of local law enforcement making sure people can practice their religious freedom in safety."
Still, the fact that mosque communities have needed extra security this year is a sign of a sorry state of affairs, many say. "Extra security at houses of worship are the new norm and it is a sad commentary on the contemporary period," says Hatem Bazian, a professor of Muslim American studies at the University of California–Berkeley. "The attacks on New Zealand mosques and religious institutions in general brought to light the intense Islamophobic and bigotry filled discourses in society."
Bazian described security measures in the California Bay Area surrounding Berkeley as similar to those in Southern California and elsewhere. "Mosques around the Bay Area and nationally took extra security measures, hired private guards, and shared information with members attending services to be on alert," he says.
Observers agreed that the increased security made manifest the intense bigotry and violence of these times. "Without a doubt, this Ramadan has been more tense than normal for American Muslims," says Todd Green, a religion professor at Iowa's Luther College and author of The Fear of Islam, a book that traces the historical roots of Islamophobia in the West. "From Quebec City to Pittsburgh to Christchurch, Muslims, Jews, and other religious minorities in Western nations have experienced some horrific high-profile attacks in their houses of worship over the past several years. This has understandably put many Muslim communities on high alert this Ramadan, with some mosques implementing increased security measures to protect their communities from those who wish to do them harm."
Mosque communities should continue to remain vigilant, particularly as the nation approaches election season, Green says. "We must also recognize that the situation is unlikely to improve even as Ramadan comes to an end," he adds. "As we move further into the next presidential election cycle, we should expect increased prejudicial rhetoric aimed at Muslims from far right politicians, including but not limited to President Trump. Such antagonistic political rhetoric contributes to a hostile atmosphere in which Muslims are more readily targeted by those with more violent inclinations who feel emboldened to act on their worst impulses."