By Anita Hassan, Friday, August 17, 2012, chron.com
On Sunday at Reliant Arena, there will be undercover police roaming the crowds, officers on horseback, even some in a helicopter circling the premises. Not to mention scores of uniformed officers walking the property. The scene sounds something more like the kind of security measures for a presidential convoy.
But they are actually safety measures being taken at the Islamic Society of Greater Houston‘s Eid Al-Fitr prayer, a celebration for a holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.
“When these incidents happen, of course it’s wise to take precautions rather than feel sorry later on,” said Aziz Siddiqi, ISGH president, whose organization hosts the largest Eid prayer in the city, usually drawing between 30,000 and 50,000 people and held this year at the arena.
Siddiqi is referring to at least eight acts of violence or vandalism that have occurred at mosques around the country in recent weeks and have put Muslims throughout the nation on edge.
While many local mosques generally employ off-duty police at large events, this year, some Houston Muslim community leaders say they are beefing up security efforts at locations where the morning Eid prayers will be held.
The Houston chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations sent out a safety advisory this week, encouraging spiritual and community leaders to take extra precautions during the last days of Ramadan and Eid.
“We don’t want to make people deathly afraid, but we want people to be aware of what’s going on in society,” said Mustafaa Carroll, president of the Houston CAIR chapter.
The most recent incident occurred Thursday at a Chicago-area cemetery where hate graffiti was scrawled on several Muslim headstones. Other incidents in Illinois included a shooting at a mosque where several people were praying at the time and an “acid” bomb thrown at an Islamic school.
Other incidents around the country included a mosque burned to the ground in Missouri; an Oklahoma mosque sprayed with paintballs; pigs legs thrown at a mosque site in California; and a firebomb hurled at a Muslim family’s home in Panama City, Fla.
Houston has not seen any attacks recently. The last known incident was an arson fire in May at Madrasah Islamiah, a southwest Houston mosque. It is still unknown if the fire was a hate crime. However, Carroll said it is still a good idea for Muslim community leaders to be on alert.
CAIR officials recommended community leaders take security measures, such as reaching out to local law enforcement to request stepped-up patrols near mosques and installing surveillance cameras, alarms and perimeter lighting.
At the Clear Lake Islamic Center, which has a congregation of about 600 to 700 people, mosque officials have decided to take just a few extra precautions on the morning of Eid. Along with securing a police presence – normal at most large events – some officials will come in early to scope out the premises, said Gehad Olabi, 27, a board member at the center.
Olabi, who works in safety and quality for an oil and gas company, said that for nearly a year, mosque officials have been implementing an emergency action plan that not only includes safety guidelines in case of natural disaster or fire, but also what steps to take in instances of vandalism or a shooting incident.
No special plans
Some local Muslim leaders do not feel the need to take extra security measures.
Imam El-Sayed Mohamed, who leads the congregation at El-Farouk, a west Houston mosque, said they will have a police presence during the Eid celebration, but not any more than normal.
“We believe that we have no problems with anybody,” he said. “We believe the majority of the society we live in believes in freedom of religion.”