In the name of God, the Most Compassionate the Merciful. All praise and thanks belong to God, the Lord of the Worlds. May peace and prayers be upon Prophet Muhammad.
By now, you must have heard about what happened over the weekend.
In Virginia, a man carrying a bat attacked a group of American Muslim teenagers after taraweh prayers, kidnapped one of them, and beat her to death. Later that day, an anti-Muslim bigot in London crashed a van into a crowd of British Muslims outside a mosque just after taraweh prayers.
May Allah SWT (God, Glorified and Exalted) grant instant Paradise to those who were killed, swiftly heal those who were injured, and deliver justice to those responsible for the violence.
If such hate crimes make you sad, angry, or afraid, you're not alone. But American Muslims must not allow sorrow, anger or fear to paralyze us. Nor should we allow hate crimes to scare us out of being proudly and public Muslim.
Indeed, if you visit your local masjid for prayer, do so as often as you want. If you want to grow a beard or wear a thobe, go for it. If you sport a hijab or a flowing abaya, more power to you.
We have every right to be proudly and publicly Muslim anywhere and everywhere, especially our own country. But we must also be safely Muslim. To that end, every Georgia masjid, every Georgia Muslim family, and every Georgia Muslim community should take basic to improve safety and security.
Here are some steps we should take:
1. Masjid Security
- Form a safety and security committee to oversee the protection of the masjid.
- Use very noticeable high-definition outdoor and indoor security cameras to deter attackers and assist in the investigation of any incident.
- Limits entry access to the masjid to TWO doors, but make many exit doors available.
- If possible, keep the entry doors to the masjid locked, and require community members to type an electronic passcode to enter the building. This is meant to ensure that an attacker cannot enter the building and assault you from behind while you pray.
- Per the advice of law enforcement, appoint at least one or two trusted and licensed community members to carry a concealed firearm inside the mosque so that these guardians can immediately respond to an active shooter.
- Develop and practice an emergency evacuation plan.
- Hire a police officer to visibly stand guard during Eid and Jum'ah.
- Host an an active shooter response traning for the masjid.
- Invite local politicians, law enforcement, churchgoers and others to the masjid for interfaith dinners.
2. Personal Security
- Take multiple personal self-defense courses with your family.
- Maintain situational awareness. In other words, be vigiant. Watch your back. Look around. This is especially important when entering or exiting a masjid or if you're visibly Muslim (hijab, abaya, thobe, beard, etc). Don't walk around with your eyes glued to your smartphone.
- Walk in pairs or groups, especially at night. Better yet, don't go wandering around at night.
- Carry personal self-defense items, including pepper spray, a contact taser or even an ink pen. Hold the item in your hand whenever you're walking to and from your car, especially if by yourself, or if in a strange location, or if visibly Muslim.
- If verbally harassed in public, do NOT engage with the perpetrator. Get to a public place, or stay in a public place, and call 911 if you feel threatened.
- Use personal self-defense items as a deterrent if someone approaches you in a threatening manner. Hold up pepper spray or a taser and warn the person threatening you to stay back. Activate the contact taser, which makes an incredibly loud and disturbing noise, as a warning.
- Wear your hijab without pins. That is, wear your hijab in such a way that it will easily come off if someone grabs it. Why? If the hijab is tightly pinned around your head, and an attacker grabs it, the attacker can easily yank you to the ground or otherwise control your movements. But if the hijab is loose, the scarf will slip easily off your head, allowing you to flee.
- If you are attacked and if you are unable to escape or use a personal security item, get very loud and fight back without hesitation. Target your attacker's eyes, throat and/or kneecaps. You can also go for the groin, but many attackers might expect that.
Bottom line: we can, God willing, do much more to protect ourselves, our families, our houses of worship, and our communities. For more information, watch this video footage of CAIR Georgia's 2016 self-defense seminar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbr0qAqPegY&feature=share). It covers self-defense tips for women, active shooter response scenarios, and home security, among other topics.
You can also watch the following videos to learn how to respond to an active shooter situation, as well as how to use pepper spray.
Active Shooter Training Videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VcSwejU2D0
Pepper Spray Training Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MhOwRfIMW_Q
Finally, contact CAIR Georgia if you would like to arrange for a self-defense seminar at your masjid or Islamic private school. In the meantime, please continue to be proudly, publicly, and safely Muslim.
May God protect people of good faith, of all faiths, from the threat of violence.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell is a Muslim-American attorney who serves as executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR Georgia). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.