Security concerns growing for Ottawa mosques and Muslim community

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The Ottawa Muslim community is still grappling with the aftermath of an attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., that left four dead and a nine-year-old boy orphaned.

Local imams say they have increased concerns about the safety of their congregations and security at their mosques.

With mosques now reopening as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 reopening plan, Sheikh Ismail Albatnuni, imam of the Mosque of Mercy, said both issues are priorities.

“We have to be ready and we have to prepare ourselves to take some measures regarding our security in the mosque,” Albatnuni said.

Although safety measures, such as cameras and security training, are already in place, Albatnuni said his mosque is still considering what increased safety measures might look like.

He said the London attack is especially concerning because it didn’t happen in a mosque.

“This incident happened during the day and in the middle of the street, so this is what is really concerning for us. It’s not just the mosques now,” he said. Albatnuni said he encourages the Muslim community to be safe and aware of their surroundings.

“As Muslims, we have now been targeted everywhere, not just in our mosques, not just in our worship places. Wherever you go, as long as you look like a Muslim, then there is some threat there. We have to be careful.”

For Maria Hamid, president of the Carleton University Muslim Students’ Association, the attack left her fearing for her safety and being constantly on guard.

Since the attack, Hamid says she has become extra cautious, even when going for a walk outside or on a bike ride.

“I become immediately suspicious of everyone that’s around me because I don’t know if this person has any animosity against Muslims and if I could be the next victim of a hate crime,” she said.

Hamid said she’s been hearing in the community a collective fear about another similar attack happening.

“There’s so much anxiety about being the next victim. Who knows if and when this will happen again, because unfortunately this is a reality of living in Canada,” she said.

As someone who wears a hijab, Hamid said increased visibility is a concern for many women wearing a headscarf or those Muslims wearing traditional clothing outside.

“Wearing a hijab means that every person that I walk by will know that there’s a Muslim in the room or there’s a Muslim on the street,” she said. “I’m just a walking target because of the way I dress.”

From within the community to university campuses, Hamid said there needs to be increased conversations to ensure Muslims can feel safe. Hamid said she also would like to see more being done to address Islamophobia wherever it takes place.