The Stories of ‘Muslims in Brooklyn’

(Photo by Zainab Iqbal via Bklyner)

Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) presented its oral history initiative “Muslims in Brooklyn” on Dec. 7 to a diverse crowd, reports Bklyner’s Zainab Iqbal. The audience, of different faiths and backgrounds, listened to project director Zaheer Ali describe the project: 50 Muslims from various walks of life who call Brooklyn home tell their stories through interviews.

“This project has been important for me as a historian, it’s been important for me as a citizen, and it’s been important for me because I’m a Muslim and I live in Brooklyn,” he said and the crowd cheered. He noted that for the people that were interviewed, Islam was important to them as a foundation, but “it was not the full, total explanation of who they are.”

“To hear the voice, to hear the rate of speech, to hear the emotion, to hear what they don’t say, to hear the silence, to hear the pause; that is when you get an intimate knowledge of the life of the people you’ve interviewed.”

Among those interviewed were activists Debbie Almontaser and Shahana Hanif, Brooklyn College professor and writer Moustafa Bayoumi, Salima Ahmed of the Ahmadi Muslim’s Women Association, and a member of the NYPD.

One of the interviews was of Ahmed Nasser, an NYPD detective who came from Yemen in 1986. He spoke about coming to NY for the first time and seeing it differently than what he had imagined. He held back tears as his voice coming from the speakers reverberated in the silent room.

“I think Brooklyn is home for me. Brooklyn is a part of us as we are a part of it,” Nasser said in the oral history project.

After the end of the first session, which included snippets of two interviews, Liz Strong, the project coordinator of “Muslims in Brooklyn” spoke about the importance of silence.

In the context of oral histories, how is silence used as a “key tool”? And how can it help build empathy? Find out, and read more on “Muslims in Brooklyn,” at Bklyner.

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