From hidden panic buttons to beefed-up security protocols, mosques and Islamic centres across Canada have boosted their security measures since January’s terrorist attack in Quebec City.
That attack saw six Muslim men gunned down during evening prayers on January 30. Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old university student, burst in the door and opened fire on the congregation.
Management at Toronto’s Islamic Information and Dawah Centre International responded to the massacre by starting to lock the doors to their Mosque during prayers, and posting two volunteers at the door to let stragglers in.
“The prayer itself only takes about five minutes, and we felt that the incident in Quebec indicated that we’re most vulnerable when we’re standing attentive in our prayers, not knowing what’s going on behind us,” Shabir Ally, the Dawah Centre’s president, said.
“To guard against that, we felt that it’s essential to keep the doors locked and keep a couple of persons posted near the door to let in late-comers.”
“The prayer itself only takes about five minutes, and we felt that the incident in Quebec indicated that we’re most vulnerable when we’re standing attentive in our prayers, not knowing what’s going on behind us,”
Ally said their congregants’ response was largely positive when they started locking the door during prayers. Their mosque is located on a busy Toronto intersection. He said anyone who wanted to do harm could easily come in, do damage, run out into an alley and escape without a hitch.
There were some at Ally’s mosque who objected to locking the doors altogether, saying that they put their reliance on God when they come in to pray.
“People resign themselves to God in this way. But from a management perspective, we want to make sure we take every reasonable precaution possible,” Ally said.
The Toronto Islamic Centre, another mosque located in the city’s downtown, has also implemented new security measures since the Quebec attack. They’ve installed an alarm system for nightly security, along with a panic button in the prayer area. It’s a hidden button, but the congregants know where it is and can press it in case of an emergency.
Abdul Malik Mohammad, the Islamic centre’s manager, said they debated whether to hire a security guard. The government offers grants to boost security measures for religious institutions, covering 50 percent of costs. But they ultimately decided against it.
They also opted not to lock their doors during prayers. Malik Mohammad said many worshippers come in late, and they don’t want people waiting outside while prayers are going on.
“The courage to face these people who are misled, who want to spoil the peace in society.”
“People come to an islamic centre to pray. People should not be intimidated by all the security presence,” Malik Mohammad said.
Ally’s congregation is now considering relaxing the locked-door policy. Their experience since the Quebec attack has been positive, with Muslims and non-Muslims bringing flowers and notes of sympathy.
But religiously and racially-motivated violence has been on the rise as of late. Dozens of attacks were reported since the Quebec attack. A 26-year-old allegedly smashed the windows of a Montreal mosque last Tuesday, and was charged with hate crimes by local police. Hamilton police are investigating an incident against that city’s Jewish community, where a swastika and the words “gas the Jews” was spray-painted on a public path.
And a Toronto mosque was the scene of a fire Tuesday evening, although police are treating the incident as an arson, not a hate crime. But, in light of the Quebec attack, many Muslim centres aren’t taking any chances with their congregants’ safety.
Sultan Mahmood, spokesperson for the Baitun Nur mosque in Calgary, has altered the schedule of their security officers and volunteers, and is looking at adding new locking mechanisms to the doors.
But he stressed the need to keep the mosque open, not to “budge to these terrorists or miscreants or violence-creators.” Mahmood wants people to come to their mosque and ask questions, to find out more about their congregation and Islam.
He said the outpouring of support following the Quebec attack gave them “the courage to face these people who are misled, who want to spoil the peace in society.”
“The point is that any such incident, whether it happens in a mosque or synagogue or a church, is very disturbing. We cannot net these miscreants control us. We are determined to face them and keep the mosque open,” Mahmood said.
In the spirit, Malik Mohammad detailed an Ontario-wide Open Mosque Day he’s planning to coincide with Canada Day. He’s working with the provincial government to find funding for the event that would see mosques throughout the province open their doors to all Canadians, offering food and information to anyone interested.