• Jacksonville mosques increase security, pray for peace

    By: Jenna Bourne , Action News Jax


    Hours after dozens of members of their faith were murdered while at prayer in New Zealand, Jacksonville Muslims knelt together to pray for the victims. 

    “It’s a collective supplication to God almighty for his mercy for those who are gone, for his kindness for those who are here,” said Islamic Center of Northeast Florida board member Ashraf Shaikh. “There’s no reason for us to hate or despise each other, or any reason for terrorism. Each of us has a right to worship the way we choose to do, and we hope and pray that we be kind to each other.”

    It’s a tragedy that hits close to home.

    PHOTOS: Local mosques mourne said special prayers for victims of the New Zealand Terrorist Attack

    Six months ago, Bernandino Bolatete was sentenced to federal prison after police say he bought an unlicensed silencer from an undercover officer while planning a mass shooting at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida.

    STORY: Judge calls man accused of plotting mass shooting in Jacksonville ‘serious, serious danger'

    “God almighty, in his mercy, saved us from a similar tragedy,” said Shaikh. “We have a great deal of thanks to offer to God almighty, to our law enforcement authorities, how professionally they apprehended him.”

    Shaikh said leaders at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida reached out to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Friday to talk about increasing security.

    Across town, Baymeadows Islamic Center Board Chairman Mohammad Ilyas walked a JSO officer around the property as the congregation began to arrive for prayer Friday afternoon.

    “We are trying to keep a few people outside the mosque to keep an eye on the people, if something happens, and try to be vigilant more,” said Ilyas.

    Ilyas said the Baymeadows Islamic Center has security cameras, but he no longer feels those are enough.

    He hopes to raise enough money to hire a police officer for every major activity and program at the center.

    Ilyas said it’s also important to address the root cause of these attacks: Hatred. 

    “When the hatred is created, it’s just like a fire. And once it starts burning, it does not see which houses belong to whom. It’s going to burn everybody,” said Ilyas.

    Ilyas said Baymeadows Islamic Center holds monthly open house events to foster understanding.

    Anyone can come ask questions about the Islamic faith.

    The Islamic Center of Northeast Florida plans to hold an interfaith service on Saturday at 4 p.m., where people of all faiths are invited to pray for peace.

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