Congregants gathered for Friday prayer, at the River Oaks Islamic Center. Over a hundred pairs of shoes, from cowboy boots to Birkenstock’s, were neatly lined up along the wall. After prayers, many congregants wrote out cards of solidarity and condolence, for the victims of the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs.
“You feel like you’re one community who worships God, at the end of the day,” Imam Mubeen Khumawala says. “If one place of worship is under attack, you feel all places of worship are under attack. You definitely feel a fraternal spirit among all faith groups…. We all are going through the same struggle.”
Khumawala said the past couple of years, the mosque has added security guards at times when the most people gather. They also installed security cameras.
“We’re able to lock our doors using iPhones and whatnot, as well,” says Khumawala. “I don’t think at this mosque, in particular, there has been need for more security…. [The Sutherland Springs shooting] is another reminder for us to be cognizant of our surroundings.”
Outside the mosque, Michael Demaris was monitoring the perimeter and guiding traffic. He says he has been head of security for the mosque, for the past four years.
“Sister, how far did you park? I’m going to walk with you,” Demaris said to an elderly congregant.
Demaris says a community-approach to safety is paramount.
“I’ve given safety talks. I’m an instructor for an NRA program called “Refuse to Be a Victim”. It’s an NRA program that’s a non-gun program, that’s a safety awareness program,” Demaris says. “We had one here back in July. It was an hour and a half, two-hour seminar. We had a self-defense demonstration by another gentleman, who is a martial arts instructor.”
Hasan Gapolani, a board member at the River Oaks Islamic Center, helped organize that self-defense class. He says it’s sad they have to take those measures, but they have to adjust to protect themselves.
“There’s just a general sense of fear that pervaded the Muslim community. And it has since 9/11; there’s been a backlash against the Muslim community. So, slowly but surely, that fear has led to action. Action in the sense of beefing up security at the mosque,” says Gapolani. “We’ve had a self-defense class here, which was attended by about 40 people, just a few months back. So, we’ve tried to really take care of ourselves and our community.”