Security officials at Boston’s largest mosque requested police to guard its campus in the wake of Monday’s deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon, a sobering reminder that Muslims in the U.S. often face threats after alleged terrorist attacks.
But if the pair of city police officers parked outside the mosque conveyed a message of heightened alert, workers inside the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center were too busy to notice. There, a small staff spent Tuesday morning working with religious leaders from various faiths across the city to launch an interfaith prayer event to memorialize the attack’s victims, while offering city and state officials all the resources the mosque could muster.
“We’re Bostonians – we mourn with the city,” said Suhaib Webb, the Oklahoma-born imam who leads the congregation. “We stand in support with the city, with the victims. We’re hurt, equally shocked and equally pissed off.”
The relationship that a Muslim community has with the city it inhabits can often be tested in the aftermath of acts of terror. But in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon attacks, the prevailing sentiment inside this mosque was of shared grief rather than instinctive distrust.
The mosque volunteered to city officials the services of the roughly 40 doctors who attend its religious services. The campus itself was volunteered to serve as a disaster relief center. And Webb, who was out of town when the attack took place, offered via Twitter his home to any marathon runner that needed shelter.
“This is Boston’s mosque,” Webb said.
Monday afternoon’s deadly attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, an annual event that the state celebrates as an official holiday, killed at least three people and injured at least 170 others, police said. Flights were temporarily grounded Monday as the city’s downtown was cordoned off and treated as a massive crime scene, frustrating residents as investigators spent Tuesday combing through an area roughly a mile in size for clues. No arrests had been made as of early Tuesday afternoon.
The mosque — New England’s largest and the second-biggest on the East Coast — once faced an uphill fight to be accepted within the Boston community, according to contemporaneous news reports. Its 70,000-square-foot building “stands tall … in the heart of Boston, a Muslim handprint on the city skyline,” the mosque’s website declares.
The mosque is now working with religious leaders across Boston to ensure the city’s healing in the aftermath of the attacks continues, even if those accused of the attack are found to be believers of Islam or of Middle Eastern descent.
“Let’s say the attacker is Muslim. I won’t consider him to be a Muslim,” Webb said. “I’m not going to defend him or represent him.”
About 1,200 people attend regular Friday prayers here, Webb said. Roughly half of the congregation is composed of immigrants. More than 250 people last year converted to Islam at the mosque, Webb added.
Webb said the mosque had not received any threats as of Tuesday morning. Still, Muhammad Abuwi, a security guard at the mosque, said all the doors to the building had been locked except for a rear entrance. Abuwi said he had been in touch with Boston police and the city’s SWAT team. The campus was in “more lock-down than normal,” Abuwi said.
Two police officers parked beside the sprawling campus declined to comment.
“We have a very strong commitment to this city, and we are helping to maintain law and order,” Webb said.
Religious leaders from across the city peppered Webb with emails on Tuesday, he said, passing along incidents of hateful speech and threats they found on the Internet in hopes of warning him of a potential backlash. One offered to pray for his congregation.
Webb was upbeat. He said he plans to run in the Boston Marathon next year. The city, he said, is “incredibly resilient.”