On Tuesday, community members stood outside of Masjid Abubakar Siddiq, the mosque in downtown Rochester, during prayer times. This is in response to the "Punish a Muslim Day" letters.
In March, anonymous letters were sent to families, businesses, and lawmakers in Britian declaring April 3 "Punish a Muslim Day." The letters outlined a point system for committing various violent acts against Muslims—such as ripping off a woman's hijab, throwing acid in a Muslim's face, or stabbing a Muslim.
Muslims pray five times a day. At each prayer time, someone was outside of the Rochester mosque's doors greeting people, holding the door open, and having conversations with prayer-goes. Around 1 PM, Pastor Carl-Eric Gentes and Pastor Charlie Leonard of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Rochester manned the doorway.
Pastor Gentes and Pastor Leonard were appalled by the threats made against Muslims in the U.K. "I was surprised that this sort of thing actually happens and that word of this got so close to home—so I wanted to be here," explained Leonard.
They stayed outside of the front door for about an hour while people prayed inside. They hoped that their presence would help the Rochester Muslim community feel secure and comfortable during prayer, despite the threatening letters. "I'm sure that's still in the back of the mind of many people worshipping today, and no one needs to worship with that concern in the back of their mind," said Gentes.
Mohamed El Sherif was greeted by Pastor Gentes during his morning and afternoon prayer. El Sherif used to live in Egypt. He described that when he lived there, when Isis made violent threats against the Christians in the community, he and other Muslims stood in front of the church to protect the people worshipping inside—exactly like what Pastor Gentes and Pastor Leonard did on Tuesday. "We'd go there. We'd do the same, actually. We'd go and stand and protect our Christian brothers—so when I saw this, I was like wow," said El Sherif.
Leonard and Gentes said it's important for people of different faiths in the community to stand up for each other. "To be neighbors, we need to do things like this for each other, to care for each other and show support for each other," commented Pastor Leonard. "This is just a small thing that we can do."
The Rochester Police Department also patroled the neighborhood during prayer times to help the Rochester Muslim community feel safe while at the mosque.