These are unsettling times at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. It’s difficult for the members to worship when they’re looking over their shoulders.
Last week, a gunman shot and killed six Sikhs at their Wisconsin temple. The following day, fire razed a Missouri mosque. It was the second fire at the mosque this summer, after a July blaze that investigators have determined was arson. Meanwhile, a Tennessee mosque is struggling to open amid protests from critics across the nation.
Now that senseless violence — committed hundreds of miles away from here — is impacting worshipers at the West Chester Islamic Center, one of the largest in the Midwest, said Dr. Inayat Malik, a Cincinnati urologist and president of the center. He said there’s “a lot of concern about security” at the mosque on Plantation Drive, especially in August, the holiest month of the year.
“What place is next?” he asked Friday afternoon about the potential for additional violence.
He said the West Chester police department has been alerted and patrols have been added. The administration is considering hiring additional security to monitor the facility around the clock. On Friday nights, Malik said, about 1,000 people worship there, making it a potential target for violence.
“We are concerned for the safety of the place and safety of the people,” Malik said minutes before the Friday afternoon service.
He said the security there is the highest since the Sept. 11 attacks when it was common to see West Chester police officers in the parking and in the Interstate 75 median.
“But security can only go so far,” he said.
Malik, 72, blamed some of the hatred toward Muslims on “baseless accusations” being made by politicians who say a majority of the violence in the United States is caused by radical Muslims.
“That just stirs up the fear and hatred toward the Muslim community,” he said. “They don’t know them. They only know what they see on TV, or read in the newspapers or blogs. They’re painted a certain stereotype and we need to change the opinion.”
These violent reports are “deeply disturbing” and should be a cause of “great concern” to all Americans regardless of their faith, he said.
“Ensuring the sanctity of places of worship and safety of those who frequent these, is an essential component of the basic right of freedom of religion, guaranteed by our constitution,” he said. “Our diversity has been a source of strength and vibrancy for our nation and we need to safeguard that for the future. We need to make every effort to get to know those around us with whom we may not be familiar. We are bound to find that despite our diversity we all have a lot more in common than we realize.”
He said Americans fear what they don’t understand. As part of its Talks and Tour outreach program, the Islamic Center opens its doors to the public every Saturday for a lesson on their beliefs. Representatives frequently speak to groups outside the church.
The temple opened 17 years ago and draws the majority of its worshipers from Dayton to Cincinnati, but also some from Kentucky and Indiana, he said. He said there are between 3 million to 6 million Muslims living in the United States.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, a group of interfaith leaders exhorted Americans to do more than pray for better times. Representing seven faith traditions, many advocated a period of public mourning after a violent week.
“It is my hope that this is more than a time to express personal sorrows,” said Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “Our most concrete rejection of violence occurs when we engage the neighbor, the neighbor who is new in our community, the neighbor who worships differently than we.”
One day, Malik hopes, when motorists drive by the mosque that faces I-75, they “won’t blink, won’t look twice.”