High Hopes for De Blasio from Bronx Muslims

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The imam at the North Bronx Islamic Center at 3156 Perry Ave., Sheikh Masoud Iqbal, said it doesn't matter who becomes mayor as long as that person provides more security and protection for Muslims in his area.

Photo by: Hakeem Muhammad

The imam at the North Bronx Islamic Center at 3156 Perry Ave., Sheikh Masoud Iqbal, said it doesn't matter who becomes mayor as long as that person provides more security and protection for Muslims in his area.

Inside the sparely lit basement of the North Bronx Islamic Center at 3156 Perry Ave., a dozen men huddled side by side to observe Tuesday’s afternoon prayer. They broke a few minutes later, put their shoes on, and returned to their jobs. But some of them went straight to vote.

The center’s imam, Sheikh Masoud Iqbal, said it doesn’t matter who becomes mayor as long as that person provides more security and protection for Muslims in his area.

“More crimes are being committed against Muslims, and this needs to change. A person from the Democratic party might be able to improve the situation,” said Iqbal.

Mohammed Chaudhry, 30, a restaurant owner in Parkchester, said the lack of police attention to Muslims’ safety fears stands in stark contrast to the NYPD’s constant surveillance of mosques and imams in New York.

“To be honest, I’m fine with this if everyone is being surveyed and not just us,” said Chaudhry.

Bill de Blasio, who was elected Tuesday to be the city’s 109th mayor, said during his campaign last month that he plans to end the NYPD’s extensive surveillance of Muslims if elected. He also promised to incorporate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the two most prominent Islamic holidays, in the public school system, saying it is a matter of respect for a religion practiced by 12 percent of school kids in New York.

Aliya Latif, board member of the Manhattan-based Muslim Democratic Club of New, said these promises would send an unequivocal message of inclusion and give permanent recognition to the city’s growing Muslim community.

“Yesterday’s election of Bill de Blasio tells the tale of one city united against discriminatory policing,” said Latif. “We will continue to engage the administration and make sure we don’t take our foot off the gas pedal.”

According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, there were 38,506 Muslims in the Bronx in 2010. Latif said when Muslims learn about the issues that are at stake in elections, they come out and vote. This is why Mohammed Tufal, 35, a bus driver in northwest Bronx, chose to vote for de Blasio. He said de Blasio’s promises are bound to bring more recognition for the growing number of Muslims in his community.

“Now my kids can take two days off a year to observe Muslim holidays,” said Tufal. “This is a step forward for all Muslims in the state.”

But giving public holidays to Muslims is not the only thing that should be on de Blasio’s to-do list, said Ibrahim Gonja, 46, head of the Bronx Islamic Cultural Center in Morris Heights. The mayor-elect should establish a sustainable, positive relationship with the Muslim community in New York.

“I tell Mr. de Blasio that he should go from mosque to mosque, knock on doors, sit down and listen. Don’t just have dinner with imams who want to talk for no clear reason,” said Gonja. “Then we will get some problems solved.”

The promises of solutions is why first-time voter Shah Rahman, 42, a clothing store cleric in Norwood, chose to support de Blasio over Joe Lhota. It was the first time he heard a government politician directly address the worries of Muslims.

“I’ve listened to him saying he will give us change. Let’s hope he does,” said Rahman.