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Muslims in Richmond region focus on prayer, security concerns after New Zealand attack

Muslims in Richmond region focus on prayer, security concerns after New Zealand attack


Muslims in the Richmond region attended their regular Friday prayer services with concerns about security and white supremacy following the anti-immigrant terrorist attack in New Zealand that killed 49 people at two mosques.

Police boosted their presence outside mosques in the region and nationally.

“We’re thinking about security of our community,” Imam Ammar Amonette, of the Islamic Center of Virginia in Chesterfield County, said in an interview. “We’re concerned about copycats.”

Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-El called Amonette on Friday morning to offer support. The rabbi’s own faith suffered an October terrorist attack by an anti-Semitic gunman who killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The Islamic Center of Virginia, founded in the 1960s and at its current location in Chesterfield since 1985, already had increased security in the last few years. Muslims must balance that with not living in fear, he said.

“We never know who’s out there,” Amonette said. “While we live in a very safe community with excellent relations with our neighbors, we have had Nazi/KKK people approach the center and throw leaflets at the center and things like that. ... [But] we refuse to be paranoid.”

There are 10,000 to 20,000 Muslims in the Richmond region, Amonette said, but an exact number is difficult to ascertain because Muslims do not belong to one particular mosque; they worship at a location convenient for work or school.

Suja Amir of Glen Allen is among Muslims working with the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond on social service projects to bring the two religions together.

The mass shooting in New Zealand reaffirms her commitment to fighting “all types of hatred in my community.”

“Our communities do suffer and a lot of time our communities suffer without many people knowing about it.”

In February, a judge in Canada sentenced a 29-year-old French-Canadian man to serve 40 years in prison for fatally shooting six Muslim men in a Quebec City mosque in 2017. Also in February, a white man smashed windows in a mosque in Dayton, Ohio, during prayers and pointed a gun at a security camera, the Dayton Daily News reported.

The ACLU tracks anti-mosque activity nationwide.

“It was devastating to hear that this happened, and of course my first thoughts were safety for my family and friends all over,” Amir said of the New Zealand shootings. “How does this affect our prayer services moving forward?

“They were praying … a very vulnerable position for any worshiping community, whether it’s in a church, whether it’s in a synagogue, it’s a very vulnerable situation, and it worries me what this kind of thing inspires.”

Amir said she believes rhetoric from President Donald Trump has inspired attacks on Muslims.

Australian Sen. Fraser Anning issued a written statement in response to the New Zealand shootings condemning the gunman but saying the “real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

Amir said people need to hold elected officials accountable for their words.

Police officers stood guard near the Islamic Center of Henrico as people started to gather for the Friday afternoon congregational prayer, called “Jumu’ah.”

Zulfi Khan, a leader within the local Muslim community, said he called local officials Friday morning to discuss how authorities can make their community feel safe after the terrorist attack in New Zealand.

Asmat Ali, an administrator at the Islamic Center, said congregants called him throughout the morning asking about security.

While the attack targeted Muslims, causing community concern, Ali and Khan said they are similarly concerned for other religious and racial minority groups.

“I felt bad, the same way I felt bad when this has happened at churches or a few months ago in Pittsburgh to the Jewish community,” Ali said, referencing the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in October.

Khan said the community leaders need to take a stand against hate.

“We should not accept hateful rhetoric, hateful language and hateful expression toward anyone,” he said. “That includes every person. We are all humans.”

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Twitter: @patrickmwilson

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Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

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