Thousands of Muslims gathered Tuesday at the Prime Osborn Convention Center in Jacksonville to close the month of Ramadan with Eid al-Fitr prayers known as the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast.
This year’s eid celebrations were safer after the massacre of 51 people in two mosques in New Zealand by a shooter. People are concerned that they might be the next targets, said Wolfson Children’s Hospital nurse Aleya Byrd.
“We pray to God that this is not the case and you don’t want your children to grow up with this fear,” she said. “I didn’t have that as an adult so it’s a little sadder to see that generations now have to be more afraid to go to their place of worship.”
Byrd grew up in Jacksonville and attended the Islamic Center in Northeast Florida (ICNEF), the oldest and largest mosque in the city. She said the threats to the mosque had been going up and down over the past few decades, but it had gotten worse lately.
Officers now stand guard during major events. According to ICNEF board member Mobeen Rathore, the mosque has also locked its gates, increased the number of surveillance cameras and lights, and trained 10 to 12 security officers to patrol the premises.
“It’s the cost of business these days, unfortunately, if you will,” said Rathore.
There are about seven mosques in Jacksonville and all of them need to improve their security, Rathore said.
But it’s not just mosques that have had to improve their security. Chabad on the beaches is raising funds to improve its safety. Neil Rashba, chairman of the Ponte Vedra synagogue security committee, said an April shooting in a similar Chabad, California prompted them to take action.
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“At that point, we decided to imagine if it could happen here. We don’t like to see ourselves as fearful, least of all as fearful. But just normal precaution, ”he said.
The small community with 60 to 80 regular participants has an armed MP patrol the synagogue. According to Rashba, it also hardened the doors and improved the cameras.
The safety concerns that ICNEF and Chabad are addressing on the beaches is a trend that communities across the country must address.
A study from California State University in San Bernardino found that reported hate crimes rose nearly 13 percent in the country’s 10 largest cities.
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Rashba said he was concerned that places of worship would be attacked. The first to catch his attention was the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, in which nine African American parishioners were killed by a gunman. And for Rathore the Tree of Life 2018 Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which claimed eleven deaths.
“It was such an obvious, hideous, terrible thing that all we had to do was do one thing,” he said. “I think most religious institutions do.”
Jacksonville had close conversations with similar attacks. In 2011 a Jacksonville man attempted to bomb the ICNEF, and in 2017 a 69-year-old man planned a mass shooting at the mosque, but it was foiled by law enforcement.
But Rashba is optimistic about the future. He said people often forget that there was a lot more political violence in the 1970s.
“I am confident that the world will eventually calm down and that in the not too distant future we will return to more peaceful times,” he said.
Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, [email protected] or on Twitter at @ abukaradan17