Tensions are high between the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and June 6 marked the first anniversary o f the terrorist attack that took four out of five lives of the Afzaal family. With gun violence and anti-Muslim hate crimes on people’s minds, it may lead to some questioning if Islamic schools and masjids will be targets in the near future.
While much of gun control and gun violence issues are primarily a US problem, there has been panic among Canadians in the past few weeks. Multiple incidents involving individuals and guns have occurred in the Greater Toronto Area. Thursday, May 26, just two days after the shooting in Uvalde, a man was spotted in Scarborough’s Port Union area carrying what looked like a rifle near an elementary school.
Five schools went into lockdown as a precaution and police arrived as multiple calls to 911 were made. The suspect was taken down by police officers who responded to the incident and died shortly after being taken into custody. The police ruled it an “isolated” incident, but due to the proximity of schools, the incident caused concern for many. The next morning, a pellet gun was found at the scene, but further details were withheld.
Three members of the GTA Muslim community shared their thoughts about recent events and how the Muslim community is handling them.
Vice Principal of Gibraltar Leadership Academy in Scarborough, Ali Haroon, said, “Safety is always a concern when you’re attached to a mosque. It’s a risk we are aware of and we do what we can.”
There are cameras at the mosque that allow the facility as well as the school to be monitored. Islamic Foundation of Toronto, along with many mosques lock their doors unless it is time for prayer. When the gates and doors are open security and staff are on watch.
Mufti Abdulmannan Mulla, Imam of Masjid Usman and Director of Religious Affairs at the Pickering Islamic Centre, said, “We have to take an active role in protecting ourselves.” He also recognized that many people at the mosque have basic training, and training for situations like shootings is an “area of weakness we need to work on.”
A Muslim police officer who prefers not to be named gave us some insight into things they have witnessed.
“I have seen an increase in hate crimes toward Muslims. I haven’t seen this many in the past 14 years.” The officer said the rise in crime has been growing over the last three to four years. One of the crimes mentioned was vandalism, a crime that often goes unreported.
“There’s a misconception within the community about reporting even the “small” things.” Although vandalism to the mosque in the form of hateful words in spray paint may seem harmless, it is a hate crime and can lead to larger crimes later. Why do these crimes go unreported? The officer had a few theories.
While many mosques and Islamic schools have cameras, it is difficult for the police to identify anyone caught on camera due to the perpetrator wearing a mask or anything that may cover their face. Mosques may also be concerned about media attention when it comes to reporting incidences or even have trust issues with the police. Our officer was recently told by their own local mosque about recent vandalism, and when he asked if they called the police their response was no. The mosque chose to tell the officer when he stopped by for jummah prayer rather than call and report.
“If those things don’t get reported, how will we know there’s a problem?” the officer said. They also mentioned that if the mosques will report crimes and they can put them down on paper, money and resources can go into making a difference. Without the reports, there isn’t much that can be done.
From the statistics the police do have involving gun crime, most of the guns in Canada are coming from across the border. It seems that we must come together as a community to help report crimes no matter how big or small.
While some community members may feel that employees and students at mosques and Islamic schools need more training for active shooter situations, others may think there is a need elsewhere. The question many are asking is, how do we prevent gun violence, not how do we prepare for it.