By Jonathan Sperling and David Brand
Hours after a horrific attack left dozens of worshippers dead at two mosques in New Zealand, a street renaming ceremony in Jamaica took on particular significance, demonstrating the spirit of inclusion and equity that pulses through Queens.
On Friday afternoon, the city officially designated a stretch of 168th Street from Highland Avenue to Gothic Drive as “JMC Way” in honor of the Jamaica Muslim Center, which has long served the borough’s Islamic community. The renaming was scheduled in December, but occurred at a poignant moment in the wake of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, where right-wing terrorists murdered 49 Muslim worshippers during their morning prayers.
The street renaming was one of many acts, large and small, in which community leaders and everyday citizens of all faiths in Queens expressed their support for the borough’s Muslim community.
“We’re getting emails from our Jewish brothers and sisters and those from other faiths letting us know they’re here for us,” said Ahmed Mohamed, the litigation director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), which is based in Astoria. “They’re sending us their condolences and offering to help in any way they can.”
Mohamed said he visited morning prayers at New York University, where 50 Jewish community members passed out flowers and statements of support. He said he also noticed more Muslim worshippers than usual, reflecting the community’s courage and resilience.
“Other faith communities are really acting as a buffer for us and letting us know they’ll be our security while we're praying,” he said. “Here in New York City a lot of the faith communities are very close and Queens is most diverse place in the he world.”
Queens Councilmember I. Daneek Miller, the lone Muslim in the city council, denounced the virulent hatred that fueled the attack and praised the city’s response to ensuring security at its own mosques.
“We are reminded again of the fact there is hatred in this world, and such utter contempt for human life can manifest itself in horrific ways, as witnessed today in New Zealand,” Councilmember I. Daneek Miller, the city’s only Muslim Councilmember, said in a statement. “We must unambiguously renounce hatred because the words and attitudes we express towards our brothers and sisters can have lasting and fatal consequences.”
CAIR-NY issued instructions to ensure Muslim New Yorkers stay safe during morning prayers, known as fajr. The organization directed worshippers to contact local law enforcement, ask for increased patrols, notify Masjid leadership, encourage vigilance and station volunteers at the door to greet worshippers.
CAIR’s national CEO Nihad Awad urged Muslims to seek support from their mosque communities.
“We tell our community, do not be afraid and do not abandon your mosques. Not now, not ever. They want you to be afraid. You should not be afraid. You should be protected,” Awad said at a press conference on Friday.
The NYPD stepped up patrols around mosques and Islamic community centers during early morning prayers, said Commissioner James O’Neill.
“We stand with you always, and we will remain vigilant in keeping you safe — and making sure you feel safe, too,” O’Neill said, adding that the attack did not seem to have a New York City connection.
The attack did, however, have a connection to the toxic strain of xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism stoked by white nationalists and right-wing extremists in New York City and around the world.
A 2017 report by the NYC Commission on Human Rights found that nearly 40 percent of Muslim, Arab, South Asian, Jewish and Sikh New Yorkers surveyed said they had experienced “verbal harassment, threats or taunting referring to race, ethnicity or religion” and more than a quarter had experienced it more than once. Nearly 10 percent of respondents said they had been physically assaulted as a “result of race, ethnicity or religion” and more than ten percent said they had experienced property damage or vandalism.
“This has been brewing for a long time and it stems from white supremacy,” Mohamed said. “There have been attacks targeting the African-American community, attacks targeting the Jewish community and now they’re targeting our community in heinous ways.”
“Coming together to condemn the attacks is one step, but we can’t forget we need to take action,” he continued. “That requires elected officials on the state level and in D.C. not to just condemn but to put into place policies that further that condemnation and remove policies that have led us to that place.”
On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed One World Trade Center to be lit in blue and red, the colors of the New Zealand flag, in solidarity with the country and the Muslim community.
"My heart breaks for the victims of the horrific attack in New Zealand. And we grieve with the rest of the world,” Cuomo said. “In the wake of this disgusting act of bigoted violence, which appears to be rooted in Islamophobia, New York stands with the Muslim community as we always have and always will.”