New York City has been a location where Muslim-Americans have contributed to the political and cultural changes in the United States for over a century. Islamophobia may be on the rise in the United States, but Muslims living here have a reputation for standing up for themselves in the face of discrimination.
Donald Trump’s recent mention of blocking Muslim migration to the United States and his association of the religion with terrorism has led to increasing Islamophobic sentiments. His comments have sparked a series of anti-Muslim comments on social media, and there has been an increase in Islamophobic attacks across the United States. On August 13, an Imam Maulama Akonjee and one of his followers were killed in Queens in what was seen as an Islamophobic act.
New York’s religious and ethnic minorities have been discriminated by the law and authorities, yet aggressive racial behavior among fellow residents is now mostly considered to be a thing of the past, as a result of multicultural integration.
Prior to World War 1, former slaves from southern states came to New York City to work. During this period there was also an enclave of Syrians in Lower Manhattan, known as “Little Syria.” A community consisting of Christian and Muslim migrants from Ottoman Syria was established there and became known as Ground Zero. They brought their “cultural idiosyncrasies” and café culture with them, although little remains of this Arab quarter.
By the late 1950s, more African-Americans were moving into the rapidly expanding urban centers which contributed to the development of a “Black Power” movement within those areas. From this emerged the Nation of Islam, which was a movement brought on by black Muslims.
Their aim was to set the “Black Consciousness” discourse in motion, combining their Islamic liberation theology to promote self-worth among the African-American community.
The Nation of Islam provided free meals and education at schools as well as rehabilitation programs for substance abusers, making them disciplined foot soldiers for one of the strongest organizations within the Civil Rights movement. Malcolm Little was one of the beneficiaries of these programs. He later changed his name to Malcolm X rejecting his former slave name.
Malcolm X soon became one of the Nation of Islam’s “rising stars.” He organized speeches outside Mosque No. seven in Harlem bringing the African-American community into action. He did, however, oppose the Nation of Islam’s leadership and was assassinated in 1965 by one of their members. He is now remembered as a New York icon, with one of the avenues in Harlem being renamed Malcolm X Boulevard.
Many of the Muslim nations were facing civil war, social upheaval, and poverty during the 1960s, leading many of their nationals to immigrate to the United States. Many institutions within the city attested to the mass influx of Muslims. The Nigerian Muslim Association was formed by a group of Yoruba Nigerians in response to the needs of the community. The Muslim Center of New York was also established during this period by Pakistanis and Indians. Even Iranians who fled their nation built a large mosque and started a foundation.
More than one hundred Islamophobic incidents have been documented since November 2015, nine of which took place in New York City. These incidents included an assault on a schoolgirl wearing a hijab, verbal abuse towards Muslims on public transport as well as physical assault in the workplace.
As Islamophobia in America continues, New York Muslims will most certainly be at the forefront of this racist trend in the country and stand for social justice.