members of the mosque at the Institute for Islamic Education in Elgin gathered for Friday prayers amid increased security after at least 49 people were killed and dozens were wounded in a mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand.
The Elgin police increased surveillance in the area. Two Muslim organizations in the Chicago area said they were also stepping up patrols and other security measures Friday.
Institute for Islamic Education President Ubaidulla Saleem gave a speech before the Friday prayers, emphasizing the importance of staying strong in faith — “aqidah” in Arabic. He reminded his congregants that throughout history, Muslim people have faced trying times but survived to pass their faith down to others.
“This is precious, this is expansive, exuberant,” Saleem said. “We are and we will continuously foster it, protect it and whatever we are asked of in the wake of whatever (tragedy) it is.”
Mahmood Syed, 53, said he lived for seven years in Christchurch, the New Zealand city where the mass shootings occurred, and used to attend one of the mosques that suffered the deadly mass shootings. He said he was not nervous about attending prayers on Friday.
“I don’t have fear, because when the time is up, it’s up,” Syed said. “You’re going to die, that’s it. That’s how I believe it. Instead of living in fear … no point.”
Zarina Samar, who lives in Woodstock, felt differently. She said she goes to Friday prayers every week unless she’s at work. But “this time when (my husband) asked me, I got scared.”
In Christchurch, one man was arrested and charged with murder, and two other armed suspects were taken into custody, and the mass shooting was being pinned on an immigrant-hating white supremacist.
Mohammed Khan, 41, another member of the mosque, said he wondered about the shooter’s motive.
“The motivations could be around fear, around preventing people from their faith,” said Mohammed Khan, 41, a member of the Elgin mosque. “Whatever it is, you have to understand that there’s a higher level, there’s a broader picture, and that this is not going to shake people’s rooted faith.”
Yasir Nadeem, a teacher at the Institute for Islamic Education, said officers from the Elgin Police Department visited in the morning and agreed to extra patrols and to set up an active shooter drill for the students. Nadeem said it’s not out of the ordinary to have extra police patrols during big events during holidays like Ramadan, when many people are gathered, and that the students had a drill last year.
Nadeem said he feels sadness, but not anger.
“Hate cannot stop, anger cannot stop any crime,” Nadeem said. “It’s sympathy, it’s counseling that can stop a crime from taking place.”
Sufyan Sohel, deputy director and counsel for the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the number of discrimination reports his office receives has nearly doubled in the last two years, Sohel said.
“When incidents like this happen, communities tend to feel isolated, that they’re alone and they’re being specifically targeted,” Sohel said.
The community needs to come together to remind Muslim people that they aren’t alone, he said — “that we’re all brothers and sisters of humanity.”
“We need to stand together for that, to keep vigilant, to speak out against incidents like this, to be vocal,” Sohel said. “Saying ‘we condemn or we mourn’ — it’s not enough. … We’ve got to reach out to our legislators and make sure that we have the right laws in place that this is no longer tolerated, that the root causes of these are attacked.”
The Chicago office of CAIR said it was not aware of any threats locally but urged mosques and Muslim centers “to take increased security precautions.”
“As the details of the story continue to develop, we urge all of our community members to be vigilant, especially while attending Friday prayers,” CAIR said in a statement. “The horrific active shooter scenario at a mosque is something we all pray never happens (but) there is no active intelligence that there is any immediate threat in the U.S. But we cannot be complacent.”
Chicago police released a statement saying “there are no known threats to the city of Chicago” but adding that “special attention will be given to Chicago mosques as a precaution.”
The Muslim Community Center, which operates a mosque on the Northwest Side and schools in Morton Grove and Skokie, said in a statement that it planned to hire extra security patrols and advised its members, “Please be vigilant by keeping your eyes and ears open and being aware of your surroundings. Report any suspicious activities to security staff or the police and help your fellow brothers and sisters.”