Bronx Muslims See Disconnect From Images Overseas

Muslim leaders and worshipers in Parkchester and Morris Park voiced that a wide gap exists between the violent protests overseas to anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims,” and the peaceful lives they lead as Muslims in the Bronx.

The Bronx Ink’s Sonia Paul spoke to mosque leaders and attendees in the area, which she reported, has “added 16 Islamic congregations and 26,342 adherents between 2000 and 2010 and has its own online news site devoted to covering issues relevant to Muslims in New York City,” making Islam the “fastest-growing religion” in the borough.

In contrast to the images captured from abroad, Mohammed Mayeez Uddin, the head of Parkchester’s Jame Masjid said that he adheres to peace, something he makes an effort to maintain in his house of worship.

Most Islamic leaders there responded to the recent violent eruptions overseas with a mixture of dismay, embarrassment, and deep concern over the world’s lack of understanding of their religion. “Forcefully, we cannot do everything,” Uddin said, shaking his head at the violent protests. He spoke haltingly, but deliberately. “You have to be peaceful.”

To that end, Uddin does not allow what he calls “destructive talk” about politics and protests in the name of faith at the Parkchester mosque where nearly all 5,000 members are originally from Bangladesh. He said he has occasionally thrown out members who have brought up the subjects. The most recent time was after the “Innocence” video gained attention. One of the mosque’s members tried to organize other parishioners in a protest.

“I just told him, ‘please leave,’” Uddin said.

Mohammed Jan, president of Mabni Masjid in Morris Park. (Photo by Sonia Paul/The Bronx Ink)

Mohammed Jan, the president of Mabni Masjid in Morris Park was “more upset than angry” with the movie since it portrayed an image of Islam that is far removed from the lives they lead and their personal experiences with their religion.

“Our religion, Islam, teaches us strongly peace, love, prosperity — and respect,” Jan said. “I mean, in the other world, there are so many demonstrations going on,” he said, referring to and distancing himself and his fellow community members from their native countries. “At some point, it’s embarrassing for us.”

Mabni Masjid also keeps indoor conversations stripped of potentially heated topics.

People come there to pray. This separation between religion and politics means that discussions of current events occur outside the mosque, in quieter conversations rather than in public demonstrations.

The 2010 U.S. Religion Census estimates that 38,506 Muslims live in the Bronx. Among them is a diverse following from across Asia and Africa.

The Muslim community includes people from countries as diverse as Albania, Mali and the Unites States itself, as well as South Asian nations. The number of residents from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, three of the top four countries with the most number of Muslims (the fourth is Indonesia), has risen from 17,992 in 2000 to 25,587 in 2010. The Bangladeshi population alone grew by 333 percent.

The population of Africans in the Bronx has also grown considerably: The most recent U.S. census estimates that from 1990 to 2010, the number of sub-Saharan Africans grew from 12,063 to around 70,000. Residents estimate about 75 percent of Africans in the Bronx are Muslim.

Visit Bronx Ink to hear audio recordings of the interviews, as well as a timeline of reactions to “Innocence of Muslims.” Also read past Voices of NY coverage of local reactions to the movie from Pakistani-Americans and Muslims in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

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