The opening of Long Island’s newest mosque was supposed to be a joyous occasion for the faithful. Instead it was imbued with a mixture of sadness and fear amid a muted celebration.
The Masjid Yusufain mosque in Mastic Beach attracted about 25 people for a grand opening on Friday that was little like what organizers expected. Three Suffolk county police cars stood vigil outside in the wake of the terrorist attacks that killed 49 people in New Zealand.
“Finally we have this beautiful day after three months of working“ to convert a Baptist church into a mosque, said Imam Fahad Hussain, the spiritual leader of the mosque. “Then we come across this very bad tragedy this morning.
“They were innocent people, harmless. They were only there to worship God,” he said. “They had no other purpose.”
One congregant, Zaki Zaman, 41, of Ronkonkoma, said: “It’s like a mixed feeling. We should be excited, but it is a sad day.”
Many Muslims on Long Island were on edge Friday after the deadly mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, which prompted law enforcement agencies in New York to ramp up efforts to protect them. Friday is the main prayer day of the week for Muslims.
“It’s a sad day for the whole world,“ said Nayyar Imam, a leader of the Selden-based Muslim Alliance of Long Island. “Everyone is scared and frightened."
The attack that left dozens of worshippers dead could “give an idea to a lot of copycats," Imam said. "I hope and pray no one will do that, but you never know.”
Nassau and Suffolk counties are home to more than two dozen mosques and about 80,000 Muslims, according to community leaders.
The Mastic Beach mosque is the 15th to open in Suffolk County, said Imam, who is the first Muslim chaplain to the Suffolk County Police Department.
His brother, Dr. Muneer Imam, a Center Moriches resident, said the new mosque will be a welcome addition for the area’s growing Muslim population.
But Muneer Imam said the attacks underscore the challenges Muslims face.
“Islamophobia is rampant throughout Europe and the United States,” he said. “We just have to deal with this and make sure people understand that Islam is a religion of peace.”
One of the New Zealand attackers wielded rifles emblazoned with white-supremacist markings, authorities said.
"At a time of great division, we will stand up to hate in all its forms and do everything in our power to protect the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.
Habeeb Ahmed, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, one of the oldest and largest mosques on Long Island, said leading politicians are encouraging an environment of hatred.
“We really need to work on stopping this hate, hate of 'other,'” he said. “And that comes from top political circles. They should be leading us in stopping the hate, but some of them are encouraging hate and bigotry.”
Ahmed noted that locally, most Muslims are happy with their elected leaders and police officials, who have been supportive of the Muslim community.
The extra security around mosques was ordered but no heightened terrorism alert was issued, officials said. Police agencies in New York City and on Long Island joined State Police in intensifying patrols around mosques on Friday.
"Although there are no known imminent threats to Nassau County, the Police Department Intelligence Division is working closely with federal, state and local partners to monitor the situation," County Executive Laura Curran and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said in a joint statement.
Suffolk police in a statement said the department "will be increasing patrols at area mosques in light of the tragic events yesterday in New Zealand."
Appearing at the Masjid Darul Quran mosque in Bay Shore, Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone said: “It is our obligation to stand up in every way we can and to call it out as hate, and Islamophobia is hate. We love you and we are so sorry for the pain you are feeling right now.”
NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill said officers are "increasing patrols and high-visibility counterterrorism presence at locations around the city," and the department "is providing all the assistance we possibly can to our friends and colleagues in and around the city of Christchurch," where the mosques were attacked.
Cuomo said that "in the wake of this disgusting act of bigoted violence, which appears to be rooted in Islamophobia, New York stands with the Muslim community as we always have and always will."
The Muslim Community of Nassau County, an umbrella group of local mosques, also blamed Islamophobia.
“This along with other recent events are clearly due to the rise of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and on a broader scale an attack against humanity,” the group said in a statement. “Whether it be people of religion or not that are killed, the perpetrators are faith-phobic, for all religions condemn hate."
Ahmed said the attack has terrified local Muslims. “This was a very well-coordinated terrorist attack and, really, gunning down people while they are praying is very hard to comprehend,“ he said.
He said that after African-Americans were massacred in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and Jews were slain in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, many people in the interfaith community said “never again.“
“And now it happens in New Zealand," Ahmed said, "in two mosques.”
With Joan Gralla and Stefanie Dazio