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5 Ways Islamic Centers Can Respond to Anti-Muslim Incidents and Threats

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NO CHARGES FOR SUSPECT IN MOSQUE FOUNDATION- BRIDGEVIEW TERROR THREAT WHO TURNED HIMSELF IN

Dear Chicago Muslims, may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) protect you!

Dear American Muslims at large, there are a lot of things to be learned from this incident and from its coverage.

First things first, let’s get past the obvious; if this incident had been a Muslim making threats against some other religion’s house of worship, the whole issue would have been handled very differently. The coverage of the threat, as well as the person/people behind it would have received much more attention and the style used to report this threat to the public would have definitely been much more sensational.

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Now, let us look to things that we can exercise direct influence over:

Community Leadership

It is very important that our community’s leaders have trained people who can follow up on these types of incidents. They should seek to find out more about the person’s motivations, who and/or what influences/influenced the person and why the person decided to turned himself in.

(How to do this is a long topic and will be different in each situation, but experienced activists with solid networks and outreach skills are needed.)

Keep Security Measures Private

Never, ever discuss details about the mosque’s security in the media. This article didn’t reveal any serious issues, but far too many times in past responses to threats, attacks, and hate crimes community leaders make the mistake of revealing weaknesses in their security measures. Don’t forget that people wishing to harm our community read these articles very closely. For the vast majority of situations the only acceptable talking point on security — for public consumption — is ‘we are being more vigilant’ and do not provide any other details.

Framing the Message

While this is serious issue, remember that threats are designed to strike fear into our community. In this case the person behind the threat went to the police. There is/could be something to celebrate in that. If nothing else, it should give our community hope that people influenced by hate, fear or misinformation can still do the right thing. On that note, bonus points go to the person who said that they weren’t intimidated in the article. Combine that person’s confidence with a message of appreciation for law enforcement and/or any support that the community got from allies — especially those of other faiths — and you effectively demonstrated that the majority of the public is united against hate and violence. We should also publicly show our appreciation for our allies; it is the right thing to do and it helps demonstrates that our community is a valued and integrated part of the society.

Opportunity for Outreach

Events like this, as sad as they are often represent a great opportunity. I recommend holding an open house or mixer. Make sure to really welcome your visitors by organizing a fun activity along with informal networking opportunities and refreshments. Then combined those activities with something like a blanket or canned food drive. This approach affords you a positive way to ride the news cycle and turn this situation into a charitable, outreach event.

Neighborly Concerns

Depending on the area, it may also be a good idea to have the Islamic Center join the neighborhood association, or host a meeting with your neighbors (residential or business) to hear and address their concerns. Be prepared to learn about issues in which we may discover that we have not been the best of neighbors ourselves. If such issues do come up always try be empathic and look for win-win solutions.

May Allah give us taufeeq!

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Paul "Iesa" Galloway is a native born Texan. He was recently called "the Yoda of interfaith affairs" by a colleague from his daytime gig. After hours Iesa serves as a consultant, messaging strategist and trainer on media, government and community relations. Iesa is a product of the "Military Brat" experience of the 1990's on US Army bases in Germany he has traveled extensively, for extended periods in Kenya, Hungary and Communist Poland on missionary trips, visited Communist East Germany with the Boy Scouts of America, as well as enjoyed time in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland and Austria. Since embracing Islam, Iesa was asked to be the founding Executive Director of CAIR-Houston, where he served the community from 2002 to 2006, he has completed the Hajj pilgrimage, participated in an interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Society for Biblical Studies and completed a study abroad program on the history of Islamic Spain, Morocco and Andalusian Philosophy with the University of Houston. Iesa's education is rooted in History and Public Relations and he has a interfaith and multiracial background.

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