Members of the Long Island Muslim community gathered with elected officials, police and other faith leaders on March 15 at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury to condemn Islamophobia after a terrorist attack the previous day by a white supremacist on two New Zealand mosques left 50 people dead.
It was the second time in as many weeks that the group had gathered to denounce hatred against Muslims, the previous instance of which occurred on March 5, after an Islamophobic poster was placed in the West Virginia statehouse, linking one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
This time, however, the pain and anxiety was far more evident after the bloodshed, with reports that as much as 20 percent of the mosque’s congregation had not shown for morning prayers that day out of fear, according to ICLI President Habeeb Ahmed.
“The bottom line is, Islamophobia kills,” he said, citing recent deadly attacks against Muslims in Canada, India and Norway.
Although this particular crime took place outside of the country, one of the epicenters of global anti-Muslim sentiment, Ahmed said, can be found in the United States, where there is a more than $200 million industry dedicated to spreading Islamophobic ideology, according to a 2016 report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the University of California Berkley’s Center for Race and Gender.
The attack, he said, was alarmingly similar to one in October at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh against Jewish congregants, and another in 2015 at an African-American church in Charleston, SC, both carried out by white supremacists.
Ahmed said all such attacks should prompt communities regardless of religious affiliation to join forces, and “fight this widespread cancer of bigotry throughout the world.”
ICLI Executive Director Dr. Mohammad Farhan said the premeditated attacks in Christchurch in places meant to serve as sanctuaries were, “clearly aimed at inflicting the maximum harm on Muslims, young and old, families and congregations while in worship.”
“We condemn strongly this level of hate and terror,” he added, “which we feel is stimulated by Islamophobic rhetoric normalized and inflamed in recent times.”
Farhan too said the most recent attacks were no different than those carried out by white supremacists in Pennsylvania and South Carolina, as well as last year’s mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla. and noting the universality of such hate crimes, said “violence, extremism and acts of terrorism do not belong to any religion or faith.”
Ibad Wali, imam of the Hillside Islamic Center in New Hyde Park also offered an emotional rebuke of the attack, denouncing the violence and forcefully pointing out that such massacres know no religion.
“It does not matter what race, religion or ethnicity anyone proclaims,” Wali said calling on leaders everywhere to denounce the attack as a hate crime. “No religion promotes hate, no religion promotes the taking of innocent lives … No religion should be called into question [and] no religion should be put on trial.”
Elected officials also lent their voices to condemn the attacks, and pledged their support for the Muslim communities living within their districts. County Executive Laura Curran said that Muslim Americans make up a crucial part of Nassau County, and called for solidarity with them in an era of hate.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us,” she said.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder pledged his department’s protection at all Muslim houses of worship within his jurisdiction, particularly as the holy month of Ramadan approaches, and reported that currently, there are no direct threats to Nassau County’s Muslim community.
“This is a place where you should feel safe and secure,” he said noting the heavy police presence posted at the center in the aftermath of the attacks. There were more than a dozen officers, some heavily armed, standing guard outside.
“You can lean on us,” Ryder assured the crowd.
Additionally, state senators Anna Kaplan and Kevin Thomas expressed their dismay at the hateful rhetoric being spread about Muslims, rhetoric that has led, at least indirectly, to such massacres.
Thomas, a Democrat from Levittown, said such attacks hit particularly close to home for him as the first person from South Asia elected to the State Senate, and said that the discourse regarding Muslims in America has long slanted towards Islamophobia.
“We have to do better,” he said.
Kaplan, a Democrat from Great Neck who emigrated from Iran, was even more forceful in her condemnation of rhetoric from American leadership, but stopped short naming any one figure.
“It’s a horrific incident,” she said, “and I think we need to send a message to our leaders, and elected officials that we are all one … and that there is a place for all of us.”
Ed Fare, mayor of Valley Stream, in which the mosque Masjid Hamza is located, and of which Muslims make up roughly a quarter of its population, according to unofficial estimates, made note of how welcoming the local Muslim community has been to him.
“I’m always comfortable, and welcome and at home there,” he said of the congregation at Masjid Hamza “… So why aren’t we more welcoming of this diversity as we should be?”
“Wherever hate exists against any race, religion or creed we must combat that with love,” Fare added.
But it was Farhan who said Muslims worldwide would remain unbowed in the face of continuing discrimination and violence, pointing out that one of the mosques attacked in New Zealand was called the Mosque of Noor, or the mosque of light.
“They seek to extinguish God’s light with their mouths,” he said, reciting a verse from the Quran, “but God will protect his light even though the rejecting will hate it. They cannot put out God’s light.”