After Rash Of Vandalism, Austin’s Muslim Community Tries To Balance Safety With Openness

In the weeks after a series of vandalisms at the North Austin Muslim Community Center, Imam Islam Mossaad says prayer services have continued as usual, but the mosque has stepped up security.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 2, someone slashed the tires on a vehicle in the mosque’s parking lot. The building’s front doors and windows were also shattered.

“It was troubling,” Mossaad says, “but we thought, ‘This is just a one-time incident, just a random incident, and we can move on.'”

But less than two weeks later, two of the mosque’s own vehicles had their tires slashed and a building window was cracked in what police say looked like an attempted entry.

Four days after that, the glass front doors of the New Madina Market, a Muslim-owned grocery store down the street, were smashed. Austin police have identified a person of interest from the store’s surveillance video. They say the person appears to be the same suspect shown on the mosque’s surveillance footage.

“This person is very brazen, very deliberate in targeting the Muslim community,” Mossaad says.

The mosque recently hosted a safety workshop with the Austin Police Department and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“We started to realize that, look, irrespective of what the potential motivations may be, bias or otherwise, people are starting to get concerned,” says Maira Sheikh, executive director of the Austin chapter of CAIR.

She says she hopes these trainings will make the Muslim community more comfortable talking to police. A recent CAIR report showed a 17 percent increase in reports of incidents of bias against Muslims nationwide between 2016 and 2017, and a 15 percent increase in hate crime reports.

“I think a lot of times, especially in immigrant communities, people are a little bit afraid to approach the police department,” Sheikh says. “So just even having the face to face and understanding where they could call, or who they call, was a little bit different.”

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