UK mosques look to security during Ramadan

An initiative by Faith Associates is providing “bespoke” training to mosque authorities at a time of increasing attacks on UK mosques.
Sunday 27/05/2018
Safety concerns. Muslim women walk past a police van positioned near Finsbury Park Mosque in London. 											     (AFP)
Safety concerns. Muslim women walk past a police van positioned near Finsbury Park Mosque in London. (AFP)

LONDON - British mosques have beefed up security during the holy month of Ramadan amid increased fears over Islamophobia.

Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim incidents in the United Kingdom, reported that more than 100 mosques were targeted in anti-Muslim hate incidents and crimes from May 2013-September 2016.

“We know that during Ramadan there is increased visibility of Muslims going to and coming back from mosques. We also know that visibility is one factor that triggers comments from people who have stereotypical views about Muslims or carry anti-Muslim hate in their minds. This is my advice and information to members of the congregation is key,” said Tell MAMA Director Iman Atta.

Ramadan in 2018 falls one year after the Finsbury Park Mosque attack in London in which a van driver tried to mow down as many Muslims “as possible” following taraweeh prayers.

“Islamophobia is real, normalised in many sections of our society and appears to be on the rise in all its forms,” Muslim Council of Britain Assistant Secretary-General Miqdaad Versi wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian before Ramadan.

An initiative by Faith Associates, a theological consultancy that addresses the needs of ethnic minority faith-based communities, is providing “bespoke” training to mosque authorities at a time of increasing attacks on UK mosques.

The initiative, which brings together the Community Security Trust (CST), the Metropolitan Police Service and the West London Mosque Forum, seeks to ensure security at British mosques during Ramadan.

“Religious communities up and down the country face varying security threats. CST has a long tradition of working with other faiths to improve their security, whether through advice or training, and will continue to do so whenever we can,” CST Chief Executive David Delew said in a release in early May.

“When communities work together we are always stronger and we are hopeful that this is a positive step towards deeper ties between our communities.”

The initial session was delivered at Hayes Muslim Centre in West London ahead of Ramadan to managers, imams, trustees and community volunteers at other mosques, who will implement what they learnt during Ramadan.

The training included threat assessments and establishing protocols to deal with emergencies, installing CCTV cameras and working with local police.

“The Finsbury Park attack highlighted the potential vulnerability of mosques and exposed the risks for faith communities and their institutions,” Faith Associates CEO Shaukat Warraich said in a release. “The mosque security training programme should help our institutions refine their approach to security.”

Highlighting the interfaith nature of British religious authorities, Jewish volunteers with decades of experience protecting synagogues, attended the Hayes session to give advice.

There is genuine fear among many British Muslims about their safety. UN Special Rapporteur on Racism Tendayi Achiume highlighted increased racism and intolerance because of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

“The environment leading up to the referendum, the environment during the referendum and the environment after the referendum has made racial and ethnic minorities more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance,” Achiume told the Guardian.

“Many with whom I consulted highlighted the growth in volume and acceptability of xenophobic discourses on migration and on foreign nationals including refugees in social and print media.”

“As an imam and someone who works in the heart of Muslim communities… it is startling to see the way that the level of fear within our communities has grown over the past five years,” said Mamadou Bocoum, a prison chaplain.

Writing in Britain’s Independent newspaper, Bocoum said, while it is important to secure mosques, mosques need to remain welcoming to visitors.

“Mosques that were once open and accessible to members of the public now feel like they are embattled and located in conflict zones, with high fences, volunteers patrolling them and CCTV cameras at every corner. How did we reach this point of division and separation within the space of just five years?”

While Tell MAMA has sought to raise awareness of security issues, including releasing literature on how mosques can better secure themselves, the national project acknowledged that such fears should not be allowed to overshadow Ramadan.

“Safety is something that should be considered but, ultimately, we urge Muslims to enjoy and spiritually regenerate themselves for the coming year. There is much that is beautiful in the month of Ramadan,” Atta said.