Carrying signs proclaiming "Peace" and "Unity," a coalition of churches and Catholic schools formed human chains around two Southwest Side mosques Friday, standing watch outside as their Muslim neighbors inside bowed in prayer.
Thousands of Muslims gather at community mosques across the country each Friday for jumma prayers. But three days after Tuesday's terrorist attacks, the prayers this week carried a sense of unease.
Mosques and Islamic institutions have been vandalized in the days after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and Muslims have faced harassment and even violence.
Fearing for their congregation's safety, a few mosques across the country decided to close Friday. Officials at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview seriously considered it after nightly confrontations with protesters.
In the end, Chicago Muslims kept their prayer halls open.
At the Bridgeview mosque, knots of police officers stood outside the building while dozens more stood guard in a nearby parking lot. There were 15 police officers outside the Muslim Community Center on North Elston Avenue, and security guards checked packages.
At the Chicago Islamic Center and Al-Salaam Mosque, both on 63rd Street, about 100 members of the Southwest Organizing Project, a neighborhood coalition of 25 churches, schools and mosques, stood outside with members of the Southwest Youth Collaborative, a community youth organization.
Protestants and Catholics, whites, blacks and Hispanics carried signs with the Muslim greeting, "Peace Be Upon You, Assalam Alaikum," and "Christians, Jews and Others Support Our Muslim and Arab Brothers and Sisters."
"Our community is racially diverse, and we thought we had to show support for our brothers and sisters," said Rev. William Lego of St. Rita of Cascia parish. "It's also a deterrent for somebody who is thinking of doing something. They would see so many people with signs and would have to think twice."
Their Muslim friends were grateful.
"I feel that they feel with us," said Hatem Fariz, president of the Chicago Islamic Center. "We are Muslims, but we had nothing to do with this deplorable act. Our Islam doesn't permit this."
In Bridgeview, the muezzin's call to prayer drew more than 500 Muslims, some driving taxis, others in their Mercedeses.
Imam Jamal Said's sermon before the prayer echoed that of other imams.
"Our hearts are full of pain and grief due to the tragic incidents," he said. "To those who committed the terrible act, they will never get away with what they have done. They think they will get away in this life, but they will never get away in the hereafter."
At the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, where American flags snapped in the crisp wind, about 250 people gathered for an interfaith service in a basement banquet room after the Friday prayer.
They heard prayers and words of support from Episcopalian, Methodist, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders, as well as Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"If Muslim worshippers feel they must create a human chain to protect their mosques, then Jews are prepared to leave our homes and synagogues to stand with you," said Rabbi Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis.