Tag Archive | "Islam"

Sub-liminal Messaging

By William Denselow, Palestinian Beat Reporter- A poster war is in full swing these days in New York City and it’s bubbling beneath the surface.

In late September, a controversial poster campaign went up across 10 New York subway stations. Within hours, many of the ads had been vandalized, some with stickers branding the posters as “racist.” There are now three different counter-ads in the subways.

The ads are scattered across Manhattan. Several stations in the Upper East Side have the posters up, as do stations at Times Square and West 23rd Street.

The original poster reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel, Defeat Jihad.”

“The posters infer that certain human beings are savages,” said Zead Ramadan, 46, president of the board for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York. “It’s demeaning and de-humanizing,” he added.

Ramadan, who was born in Palestine, also believes that the term jihad has been intentionally taken out of context.  Jihad, he added, means “struggle” in Arabic and has been used in these posters and elsewhere in order to spread hateful rhetoric against Muslims and Arabs.

Pamela Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group that bankrolled the original poster campaign, said that leftists and Islamic supremacists have misrepresented the ads message.

“The jihad against Israel is a jihad against innocent civilians, and the targeting of civilians is savage,” she said.

Ramadan said that he has no problem with a poster that advocates for Israel. What he contests, it is Geller’s attempt to take a good word and make it evil.

“If you want to put up a poster saying ‘Support Israel,’ that’s fine, it’s hunky dorey, but it’s unfortunate they defame a decent word.” Ramadan added, “They try and make anything Arab or Islamic evil.

Since the posters went up, various members of the Islamic community in New York have attempted to inform the public about Islam, especially when it comes to jihad.

After seeing the posters, Shehnaz Khan, 26, volunteered to join Why Islam, an educational organization that seeks to upend negative stereotypes about the faith. On the first Saturday after the ads were released, Khan and four other volunteers set up shop on Columbus Circle near Central Park to hand out flyers. Braving the wind under a flimsy yellow gazebo, Khan said that she was responding to Geller’s hateful ads.

“I just feel that Pamela Geller is a hateful bigot and an Islamophobe who doesn’t care to know the truth,” Khan said.

Geller dismisses charges that she is motivated by bigotry and turns the tables on her opponents.

“Why aren’t they standing with me and supporting this ad? Surely they don’t support the violent jihad against Israeli civilians. And if they’re so ’tolerant,’ why aren’t they tolerating this ad?”

The backlash against Geller’s posters has not solely come from the Islamic community. In fact, of the three counter-posters, two are from Christian organizations and the other is from a Jewish group.

The first counter-ads that went up were funded by the United Methodist Women, a group that claims to be the largest denominational faith organization for women. They argue to have around 800,000 members. Their posters went up in the same subway stations as Geller’s. A few were even placed next to each other.

Their pea-green poster reads, “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.”

Harriett Olson, CEO of the United Methodist Women, said her organization felt compelled to speak out. “The original ads seemed to us to be so objectionable that it seemed important to respond in the same public space.”

While it may seem that the United Methodist Women are wading it a fight that isn’t their own, the Rev. Vicki Flippin, 29, of the United Methodist Church of the Village on West 13th Street, supports the move. “Our Muslim brothers and sisters are people of faith just like we are and that stereotyping them in any way is harmful to all of us,” she said.

Not everyone in the United Methodist community is happy with their message though. Mark Tooley, 47, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a watchdog on church denominations, questions why the United Methodist Women would react to a poster that denounces violent Jihad.

“They seem to dispute that there should be any legitimate concern about radical Islam,” Tooley said. “They seem to accept the critique that to express any concern about radical Islam was to slam all Muslims,” he added.

Olson said that her organization’s posters were not intended to address that issue.

“The point of the posters is not to take on the violence itself. It’s to take on the de-humanization of using the of language savages for other people,” Olson said.

She added that throughout history, de-humanization has been used as a tactic prior to violence.

A few days after the Methodist posters went up, two more poster campaigns hit the subway. Geller’s posters are now outnumbered three to one. One is backed by Rabbis for Human Rights and the other is supported by Sojourners, a group led by Christian author Jim Wallis. They both urge love for “Muslim neighbors.”










Posted in Featured Stories, Print StoriesComments (0)

The Torch on the Radio: Faith in the City

On October 11th, the New York Torch’s staff did a webcast for Columbia Radio News. We focused on religion in New York’s ethnic communities; the show was called Faith in the City. The show includes several stories from our staff tackling issues such as the recent Liberian election, the conflict between faith and sexuality, and the cost of religion in a down economy.

You can find each segment on our site, or stream the entire thing here:
Faith In The City Webcast

Posted in Archives, UncategorizedComments (5)

A Bangladeshi-American Non Profit Gathers the Voices of South Asian Minorities

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

When Pakistan and India split in 1947, and when Bangladesh and Pakistan split in 1971, millions of refugees were driven out of the new countries into India. Many others were killed. Decades later, a Bangladeshi-American nonprofit in Long Island is trying to document the losses in their home country through the voices of the survivors. John Light reports.


John Light: Bangladesh’s violent road to nationhood particularly devastated women and religious minorities. Statistics for those killed and raped are unreliable, but most everyone believes that the toll was in the millions. Shuvo Dastidar is the executive director of a nonprofit called the Indian Subcontinent Partition Documentation Project – or ISPAD, for short. Dastidar’s a first-generation Bangladeshi American. He hopes to build public memory of the killings in Bangladesh through video interviews with survivors.

Shuvo Dastidar: “The legacy of it is something that, I guess with every single interview that we manage to do able to do and get online, then we’re building a legacy of it.”

Light: The problem Dastidar faces is that his interview subjects don’t want to discuss their violent past.

Dastidar: “If you have a story about how you were forced to watch your parents raped in front of you, these are memories that you manage not to talk about, and even forget, for the duration of your life. And then you’re coming up at the end of your life – is this something that you want to bring up and talk about.”

Light: Shuvo Dastidar and his father Sachi conduct the interviews in a small office at SUNY Old Westbury. Sachi remembers living as a refugee, and his presence helps subjects open up. So far, the Dastidars have interviewed 40-some Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Indians who are living in America. They have also inspired other Bangladeshi- and Indian-Americans to return to South Asia and document their families’ histories. Pratip Dasgupta is one of them. As far as Dasgupta knew, the last of his family had left Bangladesh as refugees in 1947. But a few years ago, he discovered he had a cousin whose family had stayed behind. So he booked a plane ticket to Bangladesh and met his cousin for an interview. 

Pratip Dasgupta: “He gave me the whole story of his family. Which is my family too. We felt very close when we first met, after fifty-odd years.”

Light: “Dasgupta was proud to see that his cousin was now a successful banker, but the cousin recalled in detail how his brother was beheaded by the Pakistani army in 1971. Dasgupta has also observed that minorities are not yet safe in Bangladesh, especially around the holidays.”

Dasgupta: “Every now and then I see on the Internet that temples have been destroyed, deities have been desecrated. These things are still happening.”

Light: This past week, Hindu Bangladeshis celebrated Durga Puja, their most important holiday. And in Bangladesh, tens of thousands of police officers were guarding Hindu mandirs to protect the statues of deities from attack. John Light for Faith in the City.

Posted in Archives, UncategorizedComments (0)

Muslim Cab Drivers Balance Passengers and Prayer

To pray, Muslim cab drivers have to unroll a prayer rug, kneel on it and bow in the direction of Mecca. Pakistani taxi driver Aadil Toppa, shown here, says that the life of a taxi driver is very stressful and that his praying five times a day, rather than interfering with his work, helps him get through the day. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

by Eleonore Hamelin

The sun was rising in Harlem as dozens of Senegalese cabbies got out of the Masjid Aqsa mosque after their first prayer of the day. The night-shifters and the day-shifters exchanged their car keys, and little by little, the double-parked cabs dispersed in the quiet dawn.

“Fajr,” at 5:43 a.m., is the first of five prayers that punctuate the day for the Muslim cab drivers. On this day, it was followed by four others at 12:45 p.m., 3:59 p.m., 6:32 p.m. and 7:47 p.m. – times that change everyday according to the sun’s position.

It is not an easy prayer schedule to keep for a Manhattan taxi driver. Senegalese cabbies who are resolved to praying five times a day face a litany of obstacles. Stopping even for a few minutes cuts into their earnings, and they are often forced to double-park outside mosques, exposing them to expensive parking tickets. Some mosques have gone so far as to petition the NYPD to give the cab drivers a break, but the risks still remain outside several mosques across the city.

Amar, 50, who asked to be identified by his first name, works as a yellow cab on the night shift. Before coming to the mosque for the early-morning service, he put on a long purple African robe over his pair of blue jeans and T-shirt.

“We don’t care [about] the job!” he said.

“If you don’t [pray], you gonna feel it inside,” Amar added, putting his two hands on his chest to signal he was referring to prayer. “Feel it in your heart.”

Amar has been praying five times a day since he was a young boy. These daily prayers are part of the five pillars of Islam. A strict Muslim has to unroll a prayer rug, kneel on it and bow in the direction of Mecca.

A New Yorker for 20 years, Amar said he knows “every mosque in the city,” listing the ones he has been to in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Apart from John F. Kennedy and La Guardia airports, there are no specific prayer rooms dedicated to Muslim cab drivers in the city. Every cabbie has his own preferred places, from gas stations, restaurant basements, gypsy taxi stands to the mere sidewalk.

Most of the time, the Senegalese drivers go off duty before the given times of prayer and pull over at the nearest mosque. Yet, these regular stops can have a real impact on the money they make.

Parking isn’t really an option because it is too expensive, said Fallou Diakhumpa, a 50-year-old Senegalese yellow cab driver.

“Thirty dollars, that is not fair just to park your car for five minutes!” he said.

So, like many others, Diakhumpa usually double-parks his cab, especially downtown, where it is harder to find a parking space. But this has its risks. Within just a five-minute span, he can get a $150 ticket.

“It happens all the time, and it happened to me!” Diakhumpa said. “You lose money, but you have to do what you have to do!”

Around the Masjid Aqsa mosque on Frederick Douglas Boulevard and West 116th Street, there are up to four taxi companies.

“Cab drivers come more than the others,” said Imam Souleimane Konaté, 55, the leader and co-founder of the mosque.

The five prayers are Muslim obligations, Konaté said. As a leader of the mosque since 1995, he has worked hard to facilitate access for the cabbies so they don’t have to worry about getting tickets

“We have built strong relationships with the police,” Konaté said. “With their permission, the cab drivers are allowed to double-park at prayer times.”

Not all the mosques can do this, he added. But the Masjid Mosque has had a very good working relationship with the authorities. He said that if a driver does get a fine in front of the mosque during prayer time, he can get it dismissed.

On a recent day, it was almost 6:30 a.m. when the mosque closed its doors, until the next prayer. As the sun went up, Hassan, a 50-year-old Senegalese driver who would only give his first name, started his shift in his yellow cab. He headed downtown.

As much as he would like to pray five times a day, “it is too busy,” he said.

“Because if I do that I cannot work.”

So he prays at dawn, before the start of his shift. Then, if he doesn’t have a chance to stop during the day, Hassan said he goes home and prays “all four of them together.”

Click to read the transcript

Eleonore Hamelin: A smartphone rings in the cab of Bassirou, who wouldn’t give his last name. The ringtone is a recording of the Muslim call to prayer.

Ambience: Muslim prayer on iPhone

Hamelin: Bassirou is Senegalese and he is also Muslim. He uses this app to give him the exact hours for each different prayer, five times a day. The times change every day according to the sun’s position.

Bassirou: “The sun rises, 6:45, like Doha, 12:46, Ashar, this 4:03, Mahid, 6:37, Esai, 7:52.”

Hamelin: It is not an easy praying schedule to keep for a Manhattan cabdriver. Bassirou works up to 12 hours a day. To pray, he has to stop his cab and pull over wherever he is. A strict Muslim has to unroll a prayer rug, kneel on it and bow in the direction of Mecca. Babacar Mbaye is also Senegalese. He has been a cabdriver for 24 years. He sometimes misses the prayer, but says it is possible to make it up:

Babacar Mbaye: “You don’t know what time you gonna be somewhere. Because the customer is always right, you know. So sometimes, if you are too busy to pray, you go home and you pray everything together.”

Hamelin: Mbaye’s taxi company is located on Saint Nicholas and 121st street. Inside there is a prayer room of the size of a small bedroom. The floor is covered with ten colorful carpets. Most of the drivers just drop by to pray here, or at a nearby mosque. But in the city, parking is expensive. Fallou Diakhumpa says he doesn’t want to pay 30 dollars to park for a five-minute prayer. The only other option is to double-park…

Fallou Diakhumpa: “That’s not fair. You leave your car for 5 minutes when you come back you have a ticket, the ticket cost you 150 dollars. You lose money but you have to do what you have to do.”

Ambience: rain and cars

Hamelin: Outside the taxi office, the rain is pouring down. Another driver heads back to his car to start his shift. He says if he needed to, he could pray right here, on the sidewalk and under the rain.  He says there are only 5 times a day when he can speak with God, and it is the least he can do. Eleonore Hamelin, Faith in the City.

Posted in Archives, UncategorizedComments (1)

Torch on Twitter