DALLAS — Millions of Muslims around the world, including here in North Texas, are celebrating Ramadan this month.
And many places of worship across the region are changing the way they do prayer service, especially after what happened at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville in January, when a gunman held four people hostage for hours.
At mosques we visited, there are armed guards at services that fit into the crowd, in case a gunman walks in.
For the first time, a mosque allowed us inside to show and tell us what they’re now doing differently.
This is what we saw.
'They have to blend in'
At the Islamic Association of North Texas Mosque in Richardson, you will find prayer and peace. Peace because it’s tucked away in the crowd, and in that crowd, there are armed guards.
“They have to blend in, and have to be ready if something unfortunate happens,” said Khalid Hamideh, general counsel for the Islamic Association of North Texas.
“All of the places of worship now have to hire security,” Hamideh said.
Guards are extra vigilant after the recent standoff at the synagogue in Colleyville.
“The security guards are on their toes a lot more,” Hamideh said.
In January, Malik Akram walked into Congregation Beth Israel, and held four people hostage for hours.
“Seeing what happened in Colleyville, and other places, we have to do it,” Hamideh said.
Days before the standoff, Akram walked into the Islamic Center of Irving.
He wanted to spend the night at the mosque.
“He became very agitated, and started pointing his finger at the security officer, [saying], 'Good Lord will judge you on the day of judgement day,” Hamideh said.
Security like 'at a football game'
At the Irving mosque, they previously had four armed guards; now they have at least eight during prayer service.
“It’s almost like they have become like the security folks you see at football games, where they’re looking into the stands to see if there is anything abnormal,” Hamideh said.
A handful of mosques across North Texas are adding armed guards during prayer service, and changing the way their security operations are running.
Mosque’s have also changed the way they greet people at the front door. At the Richardson mosque, they now use an educational room, which was at the front office, as their security room. They want to have face-to-face interactions with people as they walk in.
“It’s important to have face-to-face, because you know that someone is monitoring you, keeping eyes on you,” said Mohammed Hafeez, from the IANT.
And if volunteers at the mosque see an unfamiliar face, they ask questions.
“Hey, how are you doing? You look new to the facility. Can I help you with something?" Hafeez gave as an example of what might be asked.
The goal is to leave prayer service feeling cleansed.
“They’re coming here for peace, and tranquility, and nothing else,” Hamideh said.