The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been looking into an incident of vandalism, where bacon was found tied to the doors of a mosque in Las Vegas last month.
The United States has seen a sudden rise in hate crimes after the terror attack in San Bernardino, California left 14 dead on December 2. The case of vandalism at Masjid Tawheed is being investigated as an anti-Muslim attack, since pork is forbidden to touch or eat by believers of Islam. According to surveillance footage, a man wearing a baseball cap and spectacles is seen stringing raw bacon on the door handles, a little after 3 a.m. on December 27.
“There are still people out there who love to hate, unfortunately, so this was one of the sad incidents and it's unfortunate,” said Rokai Yusufzai, one of the founding members of the mosque.
Some members of the mosque were more astounded than furious.
“To us, it’s not as offensive as he might think,” Fayyaz Raja, vice president of the congregation, said. “According to our religion, yes, we can’t touch it, we can’t eat it. That I understand. But to me, it’s comical.”
Attacks against Muslims typically increase in America every time a major terror attack takes place. Last month, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University released a report, stating that hate crimes against Muslims and mosques have tripled since the consecutive terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino late last year.
Certain advocates of civil rights believe that the backlash has been fueled by anti-Muslim rhetoric from the upcoming presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump calling to ban Muslims from immigrating to America alongside demanding increased scrutiny of mosques.
A couple of days before Masjid Tawheed was attacked, a Molotov cocktail was thrown inside another mosque in Central Valley, near San Francisco Bay Area. Currently, San Joaquin County sheriff’s officials are investigating that incident as yet another hate crime. The Molotov cocktail, also referred to as a gasoline bomb, was thrown inside Tracy Islamic Center on December 26, eventually leading to a fire. As the fire caused damages worth only $1,000, Basim Elkara, executive director of the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, explained that the mosque’s door prevented the flammable fluid from entering the mosque and burning down everything in there. The attack took place when congregants were only starting to arrive for their morning prayers. Authorities could not find any immediate surveillance footage that might have captured the incident.
“The community is hurt,” Elkarra said, “Parents are having to explain to their kids what happened. They're trying to remain hopeful in the current climate.”
According to Federal Bureau of Investigation officials, the suspects might have jumped over a fence before throwing the gasoline bomb into the mosque.
Saifi Raniwala, a trustee of the center, confirmed that the mosque is now open for prayers and authorities are also looking into installing a security system.
“We are going to continue to do the prayers at the regular time,” Raniwala said, “But we are going to be more vigilant, obviously, for the safety of the physical structure and the people who attend the services.”
On December 13, the police in California as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched hate crimes inquiries after two mosques were vandalized overnight.
Congregants arriving for their morning prayer at the Islamic Center of Hawthorne found the phrase, ‘Jesus Is The Way’ spray-painted on the walls of the building, according to Sergeant Christopher Port, a spokesperson for Hawthorne Police Department. The word ‘Jesus’ was also spray-painted on the walls of Baitus-Salaam Mosque in Hawthorne, at which the surrounding Ahmadiyya Muslim community prays. A plastic object resembling a hand grenade was recovered from the driveway as well. The Los Angeles field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the state inquiry on the same day.
Ahsan Khan, a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya mosque, said that apart from the word ‘Jesus,’ three crucifixes were also spray-painted on the wall.
“This was a hate crime, by all indications,” he said. “Like everyone else in Los Angeles, members of our community were shocked by what happened” in San Bernardino, Khan said. “We were saddened that these terrorists did this in what they professed to be the name of Islam.”
The vandalism in Hawthorne came a couple of days after 23-year-old Carl James Dial Jr. was arrested at Riverside County under charges such as arson, burglary and hate crime. The police said that he had set fire to Islamic Society of Coachella Valley. According to local media reports, the fire started 15 minutes before the start of the midday prayer service and many congregants were already inside the premises when emergency crews arrived at the scene.
“We were just here trying to be free and practice our religion just like everybody else,” said 27-year-old Salahaldeen Alwishah, who was inside the mosque when the fire started.
Riverside County sheriff’s department described how the fire could not spread far and wide because it was quickly brought under control. They also confirmed that nobody was injured.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also looking into an incident in Philadelphia, where someone dumped a severed pig’s head at a mosque while driving past it.
On December 10, the Council on American Islamic Relations was compelled to evacuate its office on Capitol Hill after receiving a letter containing white powder.
“The note said ‘Die a painful death, Muslims’,” said attorney Maha Sayed. “Our fear is at a pretty high level at this time, given the anti-Muslim rhetoric going on.”
From the outskirts of Washington D.C. to the suburbs of Los Angeles, mosques across the United States have skeptically but surely stepped up security in the face of rising fears related to the way in which American Muslims are being treated ever since the terror attacks took place in Paris and San Bernardino.
The growing safety concerns shared by American Islamic leaders and steps adopted by them, including the hiring of armed guards, represent the flip side of the public’s worry over Islamic State-inspired terror attacks.
“We are always concerned about lone wolf attacks,” said Usama Shami, president of a mosque in Phoenix that has been working with the Department of Homeland Security to review its security measures.
Given the rising tensions, some mosques said that they have been struggling to hire and maintain security guards.
In Dulles, Virginia, a suburb near Washington that has a large Muslim community center, security guards suddenly quit after the terror attack in San Bernardino, explained Rizwan Jaka, chairman of All Dulles Area Muslim Society.
“Security guards resigned because they were fearful of getting hurt in the backlash,” Jaka said. “People were concerned.”
The mosque then decided to hire armed guards and the imam at the mosque, Mohamed Magid, said that security had been stepped up for programs in which children participate.
“We are concerned about the feeling in the larger community about Muslims,” he said.
Imam Nadim Bashir at East Plano Islamic Center near Dallas, Texas, said that his mosque hired an armed guard after the Paris attacks.
“We're just trying to ramp up our efforts in the community and get a better name,” said Bashir.
A mosque in Corona, California, has spent as much $10,000 in two weeks to step up security. It is now seeking donations from its congregants to defer the cost incurred.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesperson for the Council on American Islamic Relations, said that the country has experienced “an unprecedented spike in anti-Muslim incidents since the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks … Normally we would issue statements on each and every one of these attacks, but now we don’t even have time to do that because there have just been so many.”
However, not all mosques have felt the need to increase security. Masjid Al-Islam‘s mufti Ikram Ul Haq said that his mosque in Rhode Island is relying solely on police presence during prayer times.
“We have surveillance. We lock our doors and we have an alarm system,” he said. Local police, Haq said, “have been increasing patrols around our places of worship, and that gives us enough sense of security.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is not going to release any of its 2015 data related to hate crimes until next year but critics are of the opinion that the official statistics undercount reported incidents that have in fact targeted Muslims. In 2014, federal data revealed that out of 1,140 victims of religious hate crimes, approximately, 16 percent were targeted towards Muslims.
“Anecdotally, there is no question that we have had something of a flood of anti-Moslem (sp) hatred and hate crimes,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group.
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