The terrorist attack on Muslim worshippers leaving the Mosque after completing Ramadan night prayers has bought into sharp focus the vulnerability and risks that exist around faith communities and their institutions.
The vile alleged actions of Darren Osborne, the man arrested on terrorism charges for allegedly driving his rented van into a group of Muslims (killing one and injuring 8 others), are a sinister manifestation and stark reminder of the reality of Islamophobia and the steady increase of anti-Muslim hatred prevalent today.
Mosques have always been central to the needs of the community and early migrants into Britain established these institutions as a way of facilitating prayer but more importantly maintaining their religious identity. As the UK's Muslim population has grown and communities have become more diverse, naturally the number of institutions has increased but more pertinently than that, the way these institutions operate and the role they play in society has fundamentally changed.
Mosques, in much the same way as other religious places of worship, operate an open-door policy and welcome in both regular congregants and non-Muslims interested in learning about Islam any time of the day. The Mosque has a unique ability to bring together such a diverse array of people and operates in a way that engages all aspects of society. Mosques have always focussed on facilitating more than just a place to pray with an emphasis on education, community cohesion and social interaction.
However, despite the positive role they can and should play in society, the visual prominence of Mosques and their centrality to the Muslim community means they are remain vulnerable to targeted attacks by extremists that see them as soft targets and a way of instilling fear into the Muslim community in the place they feel most safe. The far-right have been open in directing their hate towards Mosques and in conversations I have had with ex-members of far-right organisations, I was told that members explicitly scout out Mosques as targets, noting prayer times and evaluating when the most number of congregants are entering or leaving at any one time. The pre-mediated nature of the attack on Sunday seems testament to this.
Within this context of heightened Islamophobia and rising far-right animosity to Mosques, Faith Associates has been advocating for and advising Mosques and Islamic Centres on implementing steps to ensure that the institution, the management and the congregation understand the risks that exists and are prepared to deal with an attack, should it occur. I am not of the opinion that Mosques or any place of worship requires an exceptional amount of external security or police presence to keep it safe but rather, the management of the institution itself should take the initiative and have the foresight to appreciate the benefits of being prepared to ensure they are kept safe and secure.
The safety and security of Mosques and Islamic Centres is twofold. In addition to a self-regulated internal approach to safety, Mosques and Islamic Centres should also have an outward looking strategy that focusses on building relationships and most importantly trust between the community, the local authorities and the police services. These collaborative approaches that are focussed on mitigating threats and building trust between local communities and local authorities will no doubt help eradicate hatred in the long run and ensure that communities and wider society feel safe and protected.
To learn more about Faith Associates work in providing support and advice to Mosques and Islamic Centres on safety and security, visit www.faithassociates.co.uk/IM