Calgary

'We could be next': Calgary Mosques step up security over Ramadan in response to terror attacks

Mosques and Muslim organizations in Calgary are stepping up security over the holy month of Ramadan in response to high-profile terror attacks which have left some feeling uneasy about gathering to pray.

Security guards on patrol at Calgary mosques for first time

Muslims gather for prayers at a space in southeast Calgary during the holy month of Ramadan. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Mosques and Muslim organizations in Calgary are stepping up security over the holy month of Ramadan in response to high-profile terror attacks which have left some feeling uneasy about gathering to pray.

For the first time ever, security guards are now on patrol outside of the city's biggest Mosques to improve safety and ease the fears of some worshipers.

Recent terror attacks fuelling the concerns include the mass shootings at Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 50 people dead and another 50 injured; bombings at churches in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250; a shooting at a synagogue in California in April and incidents like the Quebec City Mosque shooting two years ago where gunman Alexandre Bissonnette killed six people and left five others critically injured. 

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi with Calgarians Against Racism, Violence and Hate says hiring security guards is a first for Calgary mosques as worshipers worry about extreme right-wing groups and Islamophobia in Alberta turning into something much worse. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"People are fearful, they are really concerned," said Dr Mukarram Zaidi, general secretary of the newly-formed task force Calgarians Against Racism, Violence and Hate.

"They're asking what's happening with security, what's the administration doing, they're asking questions they've never asked before," said Zaidi.

Zaidi says Calgary Police Service representatives have met with Muslim leaders and different Mosques to help them improve security but he says he'd like police to do more in terms of regular patrols, even putting police officers outside of bigger Mosques during prayers.

CPS weren't able to provide an interview on policing over Ramadan and what they are doing differently, if anything, this year.

A sign directing Muslims to prayers stands in a corridor at Cardel Place in southeast Calgary. It’s one of many prayer centres set up across the city for Ramadan. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

The Muslim Council of Calgary and others have taken the step of providing their own security guards.

"MCC has hired two guards at the bigger centres this year. This is the first time ever we're seeing more security, people asking questions," said Zaidi.

Zaidi says the major concern for Alberta Muslims is the political climate and what he sees as increasingly emboldened white supremacist groups operating freely in Alberta.

"Our freedom, the way we used to live is kind of changing because of all these hate groups," he said.

"These individuals are winning when they instill fear into the hearts of individuals and we have to hire security guards.

"It's shocking and it's unbelievable that we have these groups operating in our boundaries," said Zaidi.

"What will happen sooner or later is someone like Alexandre Bissonnette will take things in his own hands and go and open shooting somewhere," he said.

He says the newly-elected provincial government's recent announcement that it will move to require Alberta post-secondary institutions to adopt U.S.-style free speech policies is another big concern for many Muslims.

"We as a community request the UCP not to do this because it gives a free hand to hate mongers to incite hate where our children are vulnerable. Calling Muslims terrorists, having anti-Semitic speeches about Jews, homophobic speeches. They are not acceptable," said Zaidi. "It's increasing hatred."

Dr. Atthar Mahmood, president of Muslims Against Terrorism, says Calgary Muslims are worried they could be the victims of the next act of terror following several high profile attacks spanning different religions around the world. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Other Mosques and organizations are also more security-focused than ever before during this Ramadan.

"They hear the news and the radio and TV and they think, we could be next," said Atthar Mahmood, president of Muslims Against Terrorism and vice-president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada.

Mahmood says the Green Dome Mosque in northeast Calgary has also hired its own security guards this year. 

He says one prayer centre last week even locked its doors during nightly prayers. It's not something they've had to think about before.

"Local city police are aware of everything and say they can be here within a few minutes but however the police can't supervise every Mosque," said Mahmood.

Mahmood says some smaller Mosques and prayer centres don't have security but vigilance is at an all-time high.

"The white supremacists they will be defeated by themselves. Our nation needs to build some strict rules and people should be punished so that message will go out to others," said Mahmood.

About the Author

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey