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Mosques in Georgia should review their security precautions and increase community outreach in the wake of Tuesday’s Chapel Hill murders, local leaders say.
“The Muslim communities across the country should respond to this horrific act of violence with doing more good deeds in honor of the victims and to continue their legacy,” said Soumaya Khalifa, founder and executive director of the Islamic Speakers Bureau (ISB). “This can be feeding the hungry, helping the sick, and reaching out more to our neighbors and friends.”
Security is also a major concern for many American Muslims.
Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her 19 year-old sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were gunned down in their apartment by a neighbor with an alleged history of making anti-Islam statements online.
If law enforcement ultimately declares the Chapel Hill shooting a hate crime, it would mark just one of at least 100 attacks on American Muslims that occur every year, according to the Justice Department.
Days after the North Carolina shooting, part of a mosque in Houston went up in flames. Authorities are investigating its cause.
“The American Muslim community must be more vigilant about its security and safety,” Khalifa said. “Do we know who is coming into our mosques?”
At least one Georgia mosque, which AtlantaMuslim.com will not name for safety reasons, has already decided to lock its doors at all times, hire police officers to stand guard during Friday prayer services, and expand its use of security cameras.
But improving security will only go so far, local Muslims say.
“It's important to do outreach so that people see the true Islam rather than the radical Islam which is portrayed on the news,” said Ahmad Jafari, imam of the Islamic Community Center of Atlanta.
Such interfaith outreach, Jafari and others hope, will reduce the atmosphere of Islamophobia that could contribute to violence against American Muslims.
In the meantime, Georgia’s Muslim community continues to remember and highlight the lives of the Muslim students killed in North Carolina.
“Brother Deah was a very kind and loving person,” said Imam Jafari, who competed against Barakat in a sports tournament while serving as an imam in North Carolina. “I didn't have much encounter with him but all my friends that did had nothing but good to say about him.”
Over 100 Georgians of various backgrounds attended an interfaith vigil in Centennial Olympic Park on Thursday night, praying for Barakat and the Mohammad sisters.
Other Americans have reached out directly to Georgia’s Muslim leaders, expressing support and condolences.
“The number of emails, phone calls, and texts I received from people across the country is unbelievable,” Khalifa said. “They all wanted the American Muslims to know they are horrified and are there with us in support.”
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