By Kristina Cooke and Idrees Ali
(Reuters) – On Sunday, June 5, hundreds crowded into a Louisville, Kentucky mosque to celebrate the life of boxer Muhammad Ali in an interfaith service. Dr. Muhammad Babar began the service with a poem: “You were the true face of faith,” he read.
The vibe, he said, was one of peace and compassion.
A week later, Babar, a local physician and community leader, attended a vigil for fifty people killed in a gay nightclub in Florida by a 29-year old American of Afghan descent.
“It’s like somebody has punched us in the gut,” he said.“Last week, we thought, finally this monkey is off our back, but now it seems the burden is back on us to prove our innocence for something a criminal who claims to be Muslim has done.”
Across the country, Muslim Americans were quick to condemn the attack, and some mosques took extra security measures to protect against backlash.
On the presidential campaign trail, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump called for a ban on immigration from countries with a “history of terrorism.”
“We’ve got to get smart, and tough, and vigilant, and we’ve got to do it now, because later is too late,” Trump said in a New Hampshire speech on Monday.
In her response to the massacre, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, warned against “inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric” and said she would make “identifying and stopping ‘lone wolves’ a top priority.”
In Louisville, mosque officials contacted a police officer to provide security at their Ramadan dinners, held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the Muslim holy month.After anti-Muslim messages were spray-painted in red on the Louisville Islamic Center’s walls in September, it upgraded security technology, including wirelessly controlled locks, and arranged for an off duty police officer to keep watch during Friday prayers.
On Sunday, the Islamic Center of Long Island, New York contacted their local precinct chief to arrange police presence at the mosque during the evening prayer service.
“We’ve had backlash before, especially with irresponsible rhetoric from politicians,” said Isma Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island.
After the San Bernardino shooting in December, the community was harassed, she said, with obscenities yelled at students and cars trying to run people over who were crossing the road, she said.
“We’re hoping this time will be calmer,” she said.
The Islamic Center of Orlando on Sunday told congregants to avoid praying outside – a practice that is common during Ramadan, when mosques are often over capacity for evening prayers.
Local law enforcement is sending patrols to the neighborhood, and the mosque is hiring extra security at night, according to Fatima Rami, an administrator. The center has called on local congregants to donate blood to victims of the shooting, even if it means breaking their Ramadan fasting for a day.
“A broken fast can be made up, a life lost is gone forever,” it posted on its website.
Some mosques have been working with federal authorities on assessments to increase their preparedness for attacks, and said they would maintain already higher levels of security implemented after the San Bernardino shootings in December.
The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix has received multiple hate emails since the Orlando shooting, its chairman Usama Shami said, and had already been working with local law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. One email, from “CJ,” said: “Do you also refute the Quran when it tells you to lie to the infidel and pretend to be his friend, so that you can betray him.”
The All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Virginia, which Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visited in December, had carried out multiple security assessments with national and federal law enforcement agencies in the past few months on how to improve security around the community center.
“The sad thing is, we’re almost used to it now,” said Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the organization.
In Louisville, the LGBT community has been supportive of the Muslim community in its fight against Islamophobia, Babar said. In March, when Donald Trump held a rally in Louisville, LGBT activists and the Muslim community stood together in protest against the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has proposed a ban on Muslim immigration.
“Racism and bigotry is the same, whether it’s against one group or another,” Babar said. “We hope our fellow citizens will see us through the lens of Muhammad Ali, rather than this deranged soul, though our hopes are dampened by this senseless tragedy.”
(Reporting By Kristina Cooke and Idrees Ali; additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Fort Pierce; editing by Brian Thevenot)