Thursday, December 10, 2015

Muslims in the Bronx; Rebuilding Communities, Defying Stereotypes

If you want to get a sense of the diversity of Muslim America, and the peaceful atmosphere of most Muslim American communities, there is no better place to do this than the Bronx. There are now tens of thousands of people who consider themselves Muslim living in the Bronx. Appearance wise, they have little in common. They come from Albania, and look indistinguishable from most Eastern Europeans. They come from West African countries like Gambia, Togo and Mali, where the majority of the population practices Islam, as well as Ghana, which is majority Christian. And more and more are coming to the Bronx from South Asian countries like Pakistan and Bengladesh. The arrival of these Muslim immigrants has coincided with a dramatic revival of once deteriorated Bronx neighborhoods and they have contributed to the revival by opening businesses, purchasing homes and sending their children to local public schools, where more than a few have become outstanding students and gone on to attend schools like Fordham. I have been lucky enough to have many of these second generation Bronx/Muslim immigrant children in my classes and their insight and work ethic and compassion for all victims of injustice has been an inspiration to me
Given what I have seen in Bronx schools and neighborhoods, and in my own classes, the attacks on Islam I see in both commercial and social media seem wildly disconnected from reality. There has not been one terrorist incident in the Bronx that has been connected to Muslim immigrants . There is not one recorded incident of Bronx Muslims attacking their Christian ( or Jewish) neighbors, calling them "infidels" or promoting violence against them. In fact there have been many Bronx Imams, led by the brilliant Sheikh Moussa Drammeh who runs an Islamic Community Center near Parkchester, who have been involved in and even led interfaith unity efforts.
Overwhelmingly, Muslim immigrants and their children have had a postiive impact on Bronx schools and communities.. Why should they be tarred with the brush of :"terrorist" or Isis supporter when they have done nothing but try to live peacefully with their neighbors?
One final comment should be made; Muslims in the Bronx like their Christian and Jewish neighbors, do not always practice every tenet of their religion. Many are secular in appearance and diet. Many do not attend Mosque regularly or participate in the daily prayers. Many, when they marry, marry Christians and Jews
In short, they are like very other immigrant group which has come to the US. They follow our laws, attend our schools, become active citizens, and over time change and are changed by the communities they live in.