At the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, the mood is one of reflection and devotion as Muslim end the holy month of Ramadan.
More than 100 city blocks away from the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero—-and miles away from the on-again-off-again plan to burn Qurans in Gainesville, Florida—-the issue of religious liberty and equality is front and center in these worshipers’ minds.
Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, a native New Yorker, and leader of the MIB, has been an outspoken leader on interfaith outreach. He believes the recent public backlash against Muslims has complicated origins. “The undercurrent here is a dual one,” said the Imam at a prayer service and Iftar marking the last three days of Ramadan. ”[It’s] one of religious intolerance on the other hand, and radical and ethnic bigotry on the other”. According to Talib, America’s main issue with Islam, conscious or otherwise, is the fact that minority ethnic groups make up the majority of the Muslim population. “Very few people, average Americans, think of a white face when they think of a Muslim” he claims.
According to a Gallup Poll released in 2009, nearly 25 percent of American Muslims are of Middle Eastern decent. The majority of the Muslim demographic is made up of African American Muslims; approximately 35 percent. But on the eve of the 9th anniversary of September 11th, anti-Islamic sentiment is on the rise, regardless of race.
A Pew Research study in August found that the number of Americans who have a “favorable” view of Islam has decreased 9 percent to a mere 30 percent of Americans since 2004, leaving many asking the question: why?
“Their introduction to Muslims was 9/11”, says Zead Ramadan, Board Director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in New York. Mr. Ramadan sees ignorance and misinformation playing a significant roll in the increased public skepticism against Islam, both at home, and abroad. “People are doing things based on fear with very little information about what they actually think that they fear” he said at a meeting at CAIR-NY’s West Harlem offices. “They think that this [the proposed building of the Park51 project in lower Manhattan] is a reflection of an expansion of a philosophy that attacked the United States. That’s the bottom line.”
As the Eid celebrations marking the end of the month of Ramadan begin across the country (coincidentally falling this year on September 11th), many American Muslims are reminding the public that the events of 9/11/2001 were a collective American tragedy. “We’re looking at them going ‘you darn villains! You killed our people…our American friends, my American father, my American son, daughter” Ramadan vented passionately as he recalled the events of that tragic day. Ramadan’s wife, a doctor, was a first responder on the scene of the attacks in 2001. She survived.
Many American Muslims, like Mr. Ramadan and Imam Talib, are proud of their country—-and their religion—but argue that the latest surge in “Islamophobia” continues to be, at its core, a civil rights issue. “This [Islamophobia] is like saying, you know, move Islam to the back of the bus.” Mr Ramadan blatantly rejected such a notion. “No. We’re not going to be relegated to second-class citizens. We have a constitution; my son was born in this country. I want him to grow up with pride about what it is to be American.”
For those in Imam Talib’s Harlem congregation, the current climate is reminiscent of a time—
decades ago— when color, not creed, kindled intolerance. But the issues, they say, look a lot like the problems facing American Muslims today.
Shortly before the Maghrib (sunset) prayers, Imam Talib remained confident that Muslims, regardless of race, would overcome their struggle for acceptance. “We’re striving to be patiently perseverant. Not passively perseverant, but patiently perseverant in meeting this challenge that has been placed before us, and that’s exactly how we see it, we see it as a challenge.