Security Tips for Places of Worship

September 6, 2011




Security Tips for Places of Worship

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will surely spark a series of conversations on the current state of national security. Unfortunately, because of the toxicity of our political culture, we will have to tolerate hate speech from a few groups and individuals within the United States. Some of that hate speech could lead to violence against individuals and community institutions. We must be vigilant in reporting any criminal activity while preserving the openness of our community and our society.

The following Quranic verse reminds us that issues of security should always be referred to an authority figure and shall not lead to spying on one another or slander:

if they would but refer it unto the Apostle and unto those from among the believers who have been entrusted with authority, such of them as are engaged in obtaining intelligence would indeed know [what to do with] it. And but for God's bounty towards you, and His grace, all but a few of you would certainly have followed Satan. Quran 4:83

Hence, we call on our community to report any suspicious behavior. Grounded in a moral desire to protect faith communities, the following information should serve as a guide to think about the security of places of worship.


If you see something or someone unfamiliar, do not hesitate to contact the leaders of your community, or go straight to your local law enforcement. Local law enforcement agencies are set up to serve and protect communities and as such should be utilized as an effective tool of defense.

Use judgment, critical thinking skills and act judiciously; For instance, if unfamiliar people appear and engage in suspicious behavior around the mosque, report it to authorities.

Create a security checklist; so that members of the mosque are aware that there are protocols in place should something arise. Leaders within the community should create a checklist of what action items are needed, the point person to contact authorities, and an evacuation plan if needed.

Establish good relations with local law enforcement, so that a common trust is built between your community and the authorities. In the event an attack may occur against the community mosque, having good relations with local law enforcement will prove to be a more effective tool in combating anything suspicious.


MAHSC Executive Board

Bilal Islamic Center, CAIR, COPAA, IMAN Center, Islamic Center of Hawthorne, Islamic Center of Reseda,

Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley, Islamic Center of South Bay , Islamic Center of Southern California,

Islamic Shura Council, MAS, MPAC, Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation


Remember communication is key; therefore, creating a response plan to an attack or post-incident procedures is important to think about. Communication before, during and after an incident serves as a control feature to ensuring safety until law enforcement or the appropriate authorities are contacted.

You can also use these general law enforcement-based guidelines for guarding your institution:

In and Around Houses of Worship or Places of Businesses

  1. Unusual behavior of individual(s) who seek access to computers and security apparatus. It is important to be open and welcoming to strangers, but also important to keep certain areas of the organization off limits to anyone except the leadership of the organization.

  2. Unusual behavior at or near your facility, such as monitoring security personnel, shift changes, or security procedures.

  3. Attempts to penetrate or test security or response procedures; actions that suggest attempts to detect or evade surveillance.

  4. Unusual questions about the facility or personnel, such as trying to learn more about security procedures, installations, and/or personnel shifts.

  5. Presence of individuals who cannot explain their need to be at or near the facility, or responses to questioning that seem scripted or rehearsed.


Identification – Suspicious Characteristics


  1. Fraudulent/altered IDs; IDs with varied name spellings; or IDs with other names/photos.

  2. Use of an international driver’s permit or other questionable sources of identification.

  3. Claims to be a government or law enforcement official, but fails to present proper identification such as a badge.

  4. Claims to be a religious official, but is neither connected to the local institution in some relevant way, nor is known by congregants.


Pre-Operational Planning & Surveillance


  1. Individual shows unusual or prolonged interest in security measures or personnel, entry points and access controls, or perimeter barriers such as fences or walls.

  2. Individual asks about security or facility personnel and/or observes security drills and procedures.

  3. Individual actively engages in “boundary probing,” beginning with physical approaches to measure possible access restrictions and/or law enforcement presence and response.

  4. Discreet or blatant use of audio/visual recording equipment (e.g., still cameras, camera phone, video recorder, or note taking) at sections of the building that is for security and/or official personnel only.

  5. Is in possession of unusual materials (on hand or in their vehicle). Example: Someone who is not an architect or construction supervisor yet contains blueprints and maps of the building, or a random stranger who has sketching materials or some audio/visual recording equipment (e.g. binoculars, video cameras, cameras with extensive adaptable lenses, audio recorders, etc.) to examine the building.


If you observe something suspicious, do not automatically assume that there is a criminal nexus. Likewise, never assume that there is a legitimate explanation behind something you believe is truly suspicious. Report all suspicious activity to local law enforcement responsible for your local jurisdiction or to the Joint Regional Intelligence Center Tip Line 1-877-A-THREAT.

FOR IMMINENT THREATS CALL 911! Once you have notified local law enforcement, contact the leadership of your organization for their situational awareness.

Leave any criminal investigation to law enforcement.

If you’re describing a person and incident to police over the phone, keep in mind the following general questions you may be asked:


  • Who?

  • What?

  • When?

  • Where?

  • How?

  • Weapons?


When describing a specific individual keep in mind the following characteristics:


  • Age

  • Gender

  • Race

  • Hair Color and Length

  • Eye Color

  • Build (thin, heavy, medium, muscular)

  • Clothing (include details from possible headgear to footwear)


If you are reporting a vehicle, use the acronym C.Y.M.B.A.L.S. to help keep track of the details:

C – Color (if unknown, use light or dark)

Y – Year, or approximate year of the vehicle

M – Make (the car company)

B – Body (truck, car, 2dr, 4 dr, station wagon, etc.)

A - Additional description (broken tail light, dented bumper, scratched paint on the side)

L – License Plate Number

S – State Where the License Plate was Issued

These safety tips are intended to provide a general guide to communities, religious centers and leaders in the event of any attack or incident that may occur.

For more information about safety to secure religious institutions:

See the Anti-Defamation League’s Security Kit to protect houses of worship:

Also, see FBI tips on internet safety for your children

For Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties

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