Security concerns rise for Ottawa mosques and Muslim community
Ottawa’s Muslim community continues to grapple with the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a Muslim family in London, Ontario that left four people dead and a nine-year-old boy orphaned.
Local imams say they are increasingly concerned about the safety of their congregations and mosques.
With the reopening of mosques as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 reopening plan, Sheikh Ismail Albatnuni, Imam of the Mosque of Mercy, said the safety of the Muslim community and the mosque is a priority.
“We must be ready and we must be prepared to take action regarding our safety in the mosque,” Albatnuni said.
Although security measures, such as cameras and security training, are already in place, Albatnuni said his mosque is still considering what increased security measures might look like.
He said the London attack is of particular concern as it did not occur in a mosque.
âThis incident happened during the day and in the middle of the street, so that’s what’s really worrying for us. There are only mosques now, âhe said. Albatnuni said he encourages the Muslim community to be safe and aware of their surroundings.
âAs Muslims, we are now targeted everywhere, not just in our mosques, not just in our places of worship. Wherever you go, as long as you look like a Muslim, there is a threat there. We have to be careful, âadded Albatnuni.
For Maria Hamid, president of the Muslim Students’ Association at Carleton University, the attack left her fearful for her safety and constantly on her guard.
Since the attack, Hamid says she has become very cautious, even when walking outdoors or on a bicycle.
âI immediately become suspicious of everyone around me because I don’t know if this person has any animosity against Muslims and if I might be the next victim of a hate crime,â she said.
Hamid said she heard in the community a collective fear about another similar attack.
âThere is so much anxiety about being the next victim. Who knows if and when it will happen again, because unfortunately it is a fact of life in Canada, âshe said.
As a person who wears the hijab, Hamid said that increased visibility is a concern for many women wearing a headscarf or for Muslims wearing traditional clothing outdoors.
âWearing the hijab means that every person I pass will know that there is a Muslim in the room or that there is a Muslim in the street,â she said. âI’m just a walking target because of the way I dress. “
From the community to college campuses, Hamid said there was a need to step up conversations to make Muslims feel safe. Hamid said she would also like more to be done to tackle Islamophobia wherever it occurs.
âWe need action from our politicians, we need action from our university administration and we need action from our community leaders,â she said.
Tahawar Rana, President of Masjid Bilal and a member of the United Muslim Organizations of Ottawa-Gatineau (UMO-OG), said it was not the first time that mosques had been concerned about security.
Since Christchurch mosque attacks which took place in New Zealand in 2019, Rana said Masjid Bilal realized they needed to tighten their security measures.
âBuilding the safety and security of people is very vital and important for everyone. As a management we always go through all the necessary steps just to make sure that not only is the community safe, but the building is also safe, âhe said.
Rana said UMO-OG, which represents mosques and Islamic centers in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, worked with local police departments and security consultants to identify any loopholes in existing security.
âAt the end of the day, we’re not in the security business. We rely a lot on these experts and we depend on them to tell us what needs to be done, âhe said.
“A new injury”
Rana said the recent attack is a “new wound” for the local Muslim community, which is still recovering from past Islamophobic attacks, including the filming 2017 in a Quebec mosque. He added that this incident proves that the fight against Islamophobia is long overdue.
âThe biggest problem we all face is fear of Islam, and it’s very sad. The fear shouldn’t be there, âhe said.
Education and prevention are the two biggest calls to action, said Rana. He said he would also like to see more multi-faith discussions and more policies and strategies at all levels of government.
âIf we can all work together to find ways to support this [Islamophobia], hopefully we can overcome. Peace can reign in these communities, âhe said.
In London, Ontario, the accused killer now faces terrorism charges. In another development, the nine-year-old survivor of the attack is now discharged from hospital.