News Report, Nancy DeVille |Photo By David Meza
Richmond mosque leaders are increasing security in the face of growing fears of attacks on American Muslims.
Concerns arose after a Richmond man allegedly made threats last month as members exited the Islamic Society of West Contra Costa County. The suspect, William Celli, is a local plumber and a supporter of Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. The front-runner GOP candidate’s plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States has amplified fears of an anti-Islamic backlash, religious leaders say.
The Richmond threat came just weeks after the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks and a string of vandalism incidents at mosques nationwide. In the Bay Area last month, white powder was sent to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Santa Clara and the Tracy Islamic Center was firebombed.
Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco office, said hate crimes against mosques tripled from nine in 2014 to 29 in 2015.
“The extreme, Islamophobic rhetoric of recent months has real consequences on the ground,” she said.
“CAIR urges mosques to increase safety precautions and security measures to ensure congregants are able to practice their faith without fear of violence, and thanks the countless allies who have been reaching out to express their solidarity with the Muslim community.”
The Richmond mosque has hired private security guards to ensure the members’ safety.
Hamza Mehter, the iman at the Islamic Society of West Contra Costa County, says Islamophobia has gotten worse in recent weeks.
“A lot of kids have come to me and said the kids in school have said things that were either racist or hateful. So we are telling everyone just to be aware and careful where you go and how to be safe.”
Mehter, 27, says he’s lived in Richmond for four years and this is the first time he’s experienced any threats.
“Richmond is a very diverse place and generally people are very accepting. But anytime something like this hits home and is this close, it is shocking,” he said.
Given the rising tensions across the country, Richmond native Ahmad Rasheed is urging Muslims to be more visible.
“Muslims must get more involved in community activities and more proactive in demonstrating against terrorists and people who are disrespecting our religion,” he said. “We need to let people see us and get to know us. It’s important that people know that we are no different than they are.”
Rasheed, 66, was raised Christian and converted to Islam as an adult. He’s a member of Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) and regularly volunteers at their shelter to prepare dinner for the homeless.
“The way we show our love for God is by serving the poor,” he said.
“Muslims are an open target now and they are being perpetuated as the enemy of America,” he said. “The way to combat that is through righteousness and doing good deeds and works in the community.”