The seven-million strong American Muslim community fears a backlash after the Tuesday (Oct. 31) attack in New York when a driver ploughed a truck through crowds in lower Manhattan killing eight and injuring a dozen more.
Imam Mohammad Qatanani, spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County (N.J.), said: “People here feel they will be blamed as a religion and as a people. Because this guy was a Muslim, Muslims will be blamed anywhere and everywhere.”
According to Pittsburg Post-Gazette the Islamic Center of Passaic County had already received eight telephone threats, prompting police to assign extra patrols to the area.
“They say they’re going to kill us, they’re going to burn the place down, all using extremely foul language,” said the mosque’s president, Omar Awad. “They say, ‘We’re going to come rip your … beard off.‘”
The New Jersey office of the Council on American Islamic Relations reported threats had also been made against the Omar Mosque, next door to the apartment house where lived Sayfullo Saipov, the man who is accused of plowing a rental truck into bikers and pedestrians.
Tensions have flared within the Muslim community as well, with two men getting into a fistfight at a mosque in a dispute over the cause of Saipov’s alleged radicalization, according to Post-Gazette.
“When we figured out he was from Paterson, we knew trouble was coming,” Rami Abadi, a 32-year-old graphic designer told Washington Post. Abadi attends the mosque next to the apartment building where Saipov was living. “All eyes are going to be on Paterson now. Because of one psycho,” he added.
Little Istanbul: Paterson is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States. Islamic leaders in the city of 147,000 people estimate Paterson’s Muslim population at 25,000 to 30,000.
Neighborhoods have been dubbed Little Ramallah or Little Istanbul for their respective Arab and Turkish residents. Peru has a consulate in the city to serve the large number of Peruvians.
Paterson was an engine of the Industrial Revolution, its factories churning out textiles and embroidery that helped earn it the nickname Silk City. But many of the industrial jobs are gone, and nearly a third of Paterson’s population lives in poverty, the city beset by crime and drugs.
It has been in this environment that the Muslim community established itself over decades, with a mix of Arab, Asian, African-American and European members of the faith. The Islamic Center of Passaic County, formed nearly three decades ago in Paterson, draws about 2,000 people for Friday communal prayers.
Now, some are afraid they will be made to answer for the actions of a man many leaders of the community say they didn’t know.
Pittsburg Post-Gazette quoted Qatanani as saying that Saipov did not attend the Passaic County mosque. As for the Omar Mosque, congregants disagreed over whether he prayed there.
The Omar mosque had been targeted by the New York Police Department, which conducted broad surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey, New York and beyond after 9/11, a program uncovered by The Associated Press in 2011. An NYPD report from the surveillance found no evidence of criminal activity at the Omar Mosque, Pittsburg Post-Gazette said.
President Trump: The day after the truck attack, Trump tweeted that the United States “will be immediately implementing much tougher Extreme Vetting Procedures.” Trump also said he wanted to send the attacker to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and called for the attacker to receive the death sentence.
“Trump has taken this horrific act and used it as an excuse not just to attack the Muslim community and immigrant Americans but also to attack some of the most fundamental rights this country holds,” said Albert Fox Cahn, the legal director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ New York chapter.
There was no similar call to action by Trump in the aftermath of last month’s Las Vegas shooting, in which a white Christian man, Stephen Paddock, killed 58 people — the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. “The hypocrisy is jarring,” Cahn said.
Muslim Advocates: Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, said Wednesday (Nov 1) that attack in New York should not be used as an excuse to fear mongering and civil rights viiolation.
In a stement Farhana Khera said:
“While our nation mourns the victims and law enforcement agencies investigate this horrific attack, President Donald Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham have sought to divide Americans, trumpet bigoted policies, demonize immigrants and Muslims, and erode our justice system. According to Senator Graham, he and the President believe we are fighting a ‘religious war’ but they fail to look at the facts. As NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller said today, this attack “isn’t about Islam.”
“Violence isn’t owned by any one faith or political ideology – witness Charlottesville, the congressional baseball shooting, and the Charleston church shooting. Any ideology can be used as an excuse for deranged behavior. Sayfullo Saipov represents Muslims as much as the Ku Klux Klan represents Christians.
“Trump and Graham are suggesting that the suspect should be treated as an enemy combatant and sent to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, outside our criminal justice system. This reckless proposal ignores the reality that our federal courts have regularly handled proceedings for numerous al Qaeda and ISIS suspects, including the recent conviction of the Chelsea bomber. By calling for an end to the diversity visa program and renewing his calls to pervert our national security screening process, Trump is seizing on this attack to further his agenda to radically transform our immigration system to keep out Muslims and other non-white immigrants.”
Feds file terrorism charges against Sayfullo Saipov: Federal prosecutors brought terrorism charges Wednesday against the Uzbek immigrant Sayfullo Saipov, saying he carried out the attack in response to the Islamic State group’s online calls to action and picked Halloween because he knew more people would be out on the streets, the Associated Press reported. Even as he lay wounded in the hospital from police gunfire, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov asked to display the ISIS flag in his room and said “he felt good about what he had done,” prosecutors said in court papers. The charges can bring the death penalty.
Interfaith Vigil for Peace: In response to the attack, religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu community organized Wednesday’s interfaith Vigil for Peace. It was held in Foley Square, located between the African Burial Ground National Monument and New York County Supreme Court, and which served as a triage centre on September 11, 2001.
The assembled crowd joined in prayer and song, and representatives from the city government and community nonprofits addressed the tragedy and grief after the attack and the importance of coming together in solidarity.
There have been several unforeseen consequences of Trump’s victory and the apparent Muslim “animus” of Trump’s administration, Harold Levine, a Jewish New Yorker, told Al Jazeera after the vigil.
One such consequence is the opening up of “channels of communication between New York’s Muslims and the Jewish community”.
Last year, Levine did not have any Muslim friends. He did not know that Islam considers Moses, David and Solomon to be prophets. He did not know that both Jews and Muslims use non-secular calendars and traditionally pray multiple times a day. Today, he is involved with the Jewish-Muslim Outreach Initiative for Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, has volunteered to serve multiple Iftar meals and counts several Muslims – including Dr Debbi
Zaid Nagi, the vice president of the Yemeni American Merchants Association in New York, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying that each time an attacker turns out to be a Muslim, he knows that his life and the lives of those in his community will only get harder. “They look like us; they sound like us,” Nagi said, “but they do not represent us.”