Rabbi Ari Ballaban, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, Karen Dabdoub, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Cincinnati, and Ayman Salem, vice chairman of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, discuss a vandalism incident at the Al-Rahman Mosque in late February. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Local religious groups review security after mosque shootings

Area religious groups emphasized unity after terrorist attacks in New Zealand on Friday and recent damage at a Dayton mosque.

Several local religious organizations also have taken extra security precautions amid safety concerns.

At least 49 people were killed and 48 were injured Friday when shots were fired inside two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Police prevented more deaths by disarming two explosive devices, according to several media reports.

In Dayton, a man broke three windows and leveled a gun at the security cameras outside Al-Rahman Mosque on Josie Street on Feb 28. At least three people were inside praying during the incident.

“When something happens to one, everyone should feel the pain,” said Huthayfa Usman, president of the University of Dayton Muslim Student Association.

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Several other religious organizations have sent messages of hope and prayers to the Muslim community, including Facebook posts from the First Baptist Church of Dayton, First Lutheran Church and Temple Beth of Dayton.

“We are devastated by the New Zealand shooting in two Christchurch mosques. Just as our Muslim friends were there for us after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, we stand with them,” a post from Temple Beth says.

The New Zealand shooting reminded Rabbi Ari Ballaban, director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October. Ballaban visited Dayton’s Al-Rahman Mosque after the Feb. 28 incident there.

“It could so easily be us. The kind of person who does something like this, doesn’t do it because they have a rational conviction or set of ideologies. They’re doing it because they have irrational hatred,” he said. “Today the irrational hatred hit the Muslim community, but there’s no rhyme or reason for that.”

Dayton is an accepting community, Usman said, especially with the relationship between Catholic and Muslim students at UD. But he said mosques across the state and in Dayton have grown concerned about security.

Dayton police are aware of the New Zealand attacks and contacted many mosques, Dayton Police Department spokeswoman Cara Zinkski-Neace said. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment.

The Dayton police had patrols outside the Fazl-I-Umar Mosque on Randolph Street during prayer Friday, said Attaul Shahid, a worshipper at the mosque and spokesman for the Fazl-I-Umar chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

“This morning my first reaction was if this could happen in New Zealand, which all our lives we’ve been taught that’s a safe place … this can happen to Muslims anywhere in the world,” he said. “It kind of raises that awareness in our hearts and in our minds that we can be subjected to this everywhere.”

Leaders with the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton traveled to Washington, D.C. recently to discuss synagogue security measures. Those measures would benefit the entire religious community, said Cathy Gardner, executive vice president and CEO of the federation.

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Dayton is diverse and has good relationships across groups, Ballaban said, but reality is that religious minorities have to take steps even in a city that feels safe.

“Nobody can really predict what’s going to happen,” he said.

Conversations surrounding security have been ongoing, Usman said, especially with the upcoming Ramadan holiday.

But those talks are becoming more real in both the Jewish and Muslim communities, Ballaban said, especially as more homicides take place during prayer times at places of worship.

“Law enforcement is alerted. They know where our mosques are and if something happens, we’re confident that we would get the help we need,” Usman said.

Deputies from the Clark County Sheriff’s Department were expected to patrol outside the Miami Valley Islamic Association of Springfield during afternoon prayer Friday, according to Samina Ahmed, a member of the mosque and the Global Education and Peace Network in Springfield.

“There will be a presence to help members feel safer,” Ahmed said. “We called earlier this morning and asked if they would send a patrol.”

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Religious groups also plan to hold community events to rally support for the Muslim community in New Zealand and improve understanding within local communities.

Next Friday’s prayer service at the UD Muslim Student Association will focus on interfaith relations and include campus ministry. There were prayer services and vigils at the Clifton Mosque in Cincinnati on Friday.

“The small solace I take is that people of a bunch of different backgrounds who maybe didn’t speak to each other as much in the past as they ought to have now are coming together,” Ballaban said.

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