When President Obama addressed terror in San Bernardino and a new wave of Islamophobia Sunday evening, Muslim communities everywhere paid close attention.
In Newark, New Jersey—a short commute from lower Manhattan—Imam Mustafa El-Amin of Masjid Ibrahim (Ibrahim Mosque) was watching. He said the president was wise to remind the American people that Islamic State and other terrorist groups “do not speak for or represent Islam in any way” and that many of the victims of terrorism around the world are, in fact, Muslim.
“One of the best ways to successfully defeat terrorism is to enlist Muslim communities as allies, rather than push us away through suspicion and hate, as some of the Republican presidential candidates and others have been doing,” he said.
El-Amin, a highly-respected African-American Muslim leader in the community, welcomes men and women of all backgrounds in his mosque, from as far as Egypt and as near as the city’s South Ward, where the mosque sits.
Although El-Amin is a registered Democrat - he voted for Obama twice - he has taken a liking to Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican, in the 2016 presidential election. He said he believes Christie is a “man of principle” with a strong record of standing with the Muslim community as governor. But he warns that leaders running for the nation’s highest office, including Christie, have a responsibility to stand up to Donald Trump and anyone that is misrepresenting the facts.
“I just hope that he [Christie] can, from my perspective, stay the man that we know him to be—stick to his principles, even if it puts him at risk,” said El-Amin.
Economic and social justice
Not every Muslim in the neighborhood has decided on a candidate. Abdus-Saboor Shakir-Ullah, also an African-American who has attended services at Imam Mustafa’s mosque for over ten years, is leaning toward Bernie Sanders, but has not ruled out a Hillary Clinton presidency, calling her the strongest candidate against the GOP. He said Sanders has shown compassion on issues that pertain to Islamophobia, and has a strong record of fighting for economic and social justice.
“I like a lot of the things that Sanders is saying,” said Shakir-Ullah. "Even though he’s talking in reference to the social aspects, Islam has certain aspects of that too: caring for the poor, the needy. I like that platform.”
Steve McFarland, a grassroots community coordinator at Long Island Civic Engagement Center in New York, says issues that relate to economic justice rank among the most important for immigrant communities, alongside immigration reform. He senses a strong sense of community among minority and immigrant groups.
“Given the state of the immigration reform movement and the state of our national politics, since immigrants face a common problem of lack of access to workplace security, to legal status, they’re sort of united by that,” said McFarland.
‘Safest place is in the ‘hood’’
With regard to the Muslim community, Imam El-Amin said the sense of unity in his predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhood runs even deeper. He calls it the safest place for Muslims, and for his mosque.
“The respect for Muslims in the hood—in our neighborhood—is high. We don’t walk around fearing that somebody is going to attack you because you’re Muslim, said El-Amin. “You won’t worry about nobody marking up the masjid or doing things like that.”