Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, is a time of prayer, community and reflection.
But with a recent rise in Islamophobia-fueled hate crimes, the observance of the holy month has become a bit more complicated.
This year, Ramadan stretches from May 6 to June 4 during the 1,440th year on the Islamic calendar. The yearly tradition commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s first communication with God, who shared with Muhammad the first of many verses to make up the Quran, the religious text central to Islam.
During the holy month of fasting, Muslims who are observing Ramadan do not eat during daylight hours. It is an extremely spiritual time in the Islamic calendar and goes hand in hand with increased prayer and Quran study, as well as a heightened relationship with the Muslim faith.
But as a study from researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Loyola University School of Law suggests, divisive sociopolitical rhetoric has been on the rise under President Donald Trump, and so too is Islamophobia. High-profile attacks on places of worship, the most recent being the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand in March, as well as anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased in frequency. This has, in turn, complicated the observance of Ramadan by bringing up security concerns.
As the observance of Ramadan continues and mosques see higher traffic than usual, tensions have only intensified, according to first-year public affairs student Rimsha Saeed.
“The Friday following (the Christchurch shooting), there was a definite tension in the air,” Saeed said. “People were concerned and scared.”
Many mosques across the United States are acting on these concerns.
This includes the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamci Center, a mosque located in northern Virginia that sees over 1,000 visitors a day for prayer during Ramadan. A representative of the mosque told the Washington Post that, as an act of preemptive defense, the mosque has since increased its security presence from high-traffic prayer hours to all five prayers of the day for the entirety of the holy month and has also considered searching visitors’ bags prior to their entering.
Saeed said she saw these defensive sentiments being put into action at her local mosque in Irvine, following the Christchurch shooting. She said the Islamic Center of Irvine put $10,000 into increased security expenses this year and have also been coordinating with the Irvine Police Department to have more security present at the mosque during Ramadan.
It is thus clear that the trend in acting on Islamophobic rhetoric has affected the daily functions of mosques, who in response have largely had to take a rather defensive approach. This has, in turn, introduced an armed presence into a place of worship.
Mohammad Siddiqui, a fourth-year sociology student and the outreach coordinator for the Muslim Student Association at UCLA, said his first time seeing an armed guard at a mosque was immediately following the Christchurch shootings. The militarized changes he observed have only exemplified the life and death concerns that such shootings have introduced into peaceful places of worship, he said.
“Mosque boards have fully seen the need for not just security guards, but armed security guards. (They) want to ensure that the mosque is safe, … that people feel safe,” Siddiqui said. “You never know what’s about to happen.”
Increased armed security measures are also becoming a common reaction to shooting threats in mosques in the Los Angeles area.
Abdel-Hamid Darraj, who oversees visitors and cultural affairs at the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, has seen his mosque undergo heightened security measures with the start of Ramadan. Of the two new security guards hired by the mosque, one is armed, he said.
Meeting increased security concerns, whether it be through armed or unarmed tactics, is a crucial step in dispelling fear and unease among visitors, Siddiqui said. To move beyond the Islamophobic rhetoric and actions that have tainted the month’s festivities, Siddiqui said the need for educating the uneducated on the fundamentals of Islam in order to combat such hate-fueled ideologies is greater than ever.
“Oftentimes, people tend to have their own perception of Islam without any research or knowledge on the fundamentals of the religion,” he said. “It takes knowledge, understanding and research to really know what Islam teaches.”