An arson fire that gutted an Antioch mosque Sunday has turned a spotlight on the conundrum for religious institutions on the political fault line: how to repel intruders while welcoming worshippers.

“That is what I’m having so much trouble explaining to my son right now,” said Abdul Rahman, chairman of Islamic Center of the East Bay, the torched mosque. “I try to tell him there are good and bad people.”

But many religious leaders say that preparing too diligently for the bad weakens what the faithful seek.

“This is a place of worship. You want to come in at 4 in the morning and pray, you can pray,” said Dian Alyan, spokesperson for Santa Clara Muslim Community Association, the Bay Area’s largest mosque.

Yet representatives of many mosques, synagogues and Sikh temples say they have struck a balance between neighborliness and security.

The comfort comes in knowing that very few people intend to harm them, said Amer Siddiqee of American Muslims Intent on Learning and Activism.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Siddiqee’s neighbors in Santa Clara asked whether they could shop or perform other errands for him so he would not suffer from others’ misguided rage.

“We feel really blessed,” he said. Nonetheless, his mosque has a security system.

“Generally, religious institutions have not been the best on concentrating on security issues,” said Jonathan Bernstein, head of the Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Region. “They are busy communicating other kinds of messages.” . . .

Friends have established a fund to aid in the rebuilding of the mosque. Contributions may be made to the Islamic Center of the East Bay, Account No. 10683-04586, Bank of America.

Offers for volunteering and other assistance may be e-mailed to


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