Thursday, 14 November 2019

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C CAIR-FL In The News

As Muslims celebrate Ramadan, security fears play out amid prayers, teachings of tolerance

By BY DANIEL SHOER ROTH, For Miami Herald, On 06 May 2019, Read Original
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Pittsburgh. New Zealand. Sri Lanka. San Diego.

These places, so far from each other, are bound by a common pain that has afflicted communities of faith around the globe and drove Ameen Dalal, an 11-year-old Muslim boy in Davie, to ask, “Why?”

“We’ve had to explain to him that there is hate out there, and that the only way to counter it is if we stand against hate,” said his mother, Tehsin Siddiqui, an immigrant from Pakistan. Especially after the attacks on the two New Zealand mosques on March 15 that killed 51 people, she added, “He had a lot of questions as to why. We prevented him from reading the newspaper that morning, but we had to talk about it.”

During the holy month of Ramadan, which starts Monday and marks the first revelations of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed, Muslim families in South Florida will fast, pray and feed their spirituality amid a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment. And they will teach their children that the best weapon to fight deep-rooted intolerance is love.

“We’ll teach our kids that the only way to eliminate hate is responding with love, care, charity, and emphasizing the good we can do,” said Siddiqui, a frequent speaker about Islamophobia who has been taunted because of her hijab, the head scarf worn by traditional Muslim women.

She added that although there is enthusiasm for the Ramadan celebrations, some families are debating whether to go to their mosques to pray and break the daily fast because of security fears. “It’s not panic, but it’s worrisome,” she noted. “People feel that if it happened in New Zealand, it can happen here.”

Wilfredo Ruiz, communications director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Florida, said mosques, schools and other Islamic centers in the region have strengthened their surveillance systems, hired more police officers and adopted other security measures for Ramadan.

“The Muslim community is highly concerned, not to the extreme of considering forgoing its Ramadan rituals, but convinced that it has to take decisive measures for its personal security,” Ruiz said. “Sadly, the situation in Florida is not very good or comfortable. The bomb threats, the harassment, the hate crimes and incidents are always present.”

A COMMUNITY ON ALERT

CAIR Florida reported receiving 870 complaints of civil rights violations against Muslims statewide in 2018. Its legal team filed a number of lawsuits for victims of discrimination in the workplace and at school, including complaints against “the government’s profiling of the community, that continues to subject them to harassment while traveling,” CAIR said.

That’s a 19 percent increase over 2017, when it registered 729 complaints in the state.

The anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric in the United States, which spiked after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and again after President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, has alarmed the local Muslim community. Two weeks ago, a Tamarac man was arrested on charges of sending threats and racist insults to members of Congress, including Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of two Muslim women elected to the U.S. House in 2018.

Olivia Cantú, operations director for Emgage Florida, a PAC that supports pro-civil rights candidates, said Islamophobia in Florida is “a sad reality that is not spoken about.”

“It’s not right that an entire religion pays the price for a few fanatics,” said Cantú, a Mexican American who lives in Hialeah and converted to Islam. “There are many prejudices here. I have male and female friends who were denied jobs because they are Muslim.”

She has grown accustomed to hearing derogatory comments behind her back when she wears the hijab. She’ll hear comments in Spanish from people who don’t realize she is Hispanic. She’ll turn, smile and use humor to disarm the critics.

“It worries me because my daughter is the only Muslim in the school,” she said.

She has taught her 11-year-old to reply “peacefully, lovingly and kindly” if another child makes fun of her religion.

KNOCKING DOWN BARRIERS

The hostile attitude toward Islam and Muslims stems, in part, on the Sept. 11 attacks — the 19 hijackers were members of al-Qaida, an Islamic terrorist group. Yet the tenets of Islam are built around helping those in need, prayer, detachment from worldly possessions and fasting.

With the advent of social media, anti-Islamic vitriol has grown more ugly.

A Pew Research Center poll in 2017 of opinions about nine religious groups indicated that 49 percent of U.S. adults believe that at least “some” Muslims in the United States are anti-American.

But 45 percent of non-Muslim adults responded they had never personally met a Muslim, the survey found. They were the group who expressed the greatest reservations about Muslims and Islam, while those who knew some Muslims expressed “somewhat more positive views,” the poll found.

To dispel these negative views and to teach people about the faith, the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations (COSMOS) is coordinating open houses during the month of Ramadan, inviting the public to mosques for Iftar, the traditional sumptuous feast that ends the daytime fasting.

“The Ramadan Open House is an opportunity for non-Muslims to learn about Islam and Muslim culture, to break bread together and to build bridges,” said COSMOS spokesman Shabbir Motorwala. This year, they carry more importance “in light of the increased anti-Muslim rhetoric and Islamophobia in the nation,” he added.

Imam Abdul Hamid Samra of the Islamic Center of Greater Miami in Miami Gardens has invited numerous dignitaries, including the U.S. attorney, the University of Miami president, Christian and Jewish leaders and school board members to the May 7 event. He plans another open house toward the end of the month for Hispanic worshipers of 21 South Florida churches, most of them Evangelical.

Samra said it’s important to include values such as respect for the dignity of all people in the curriculum of elementary and high schools. “A better understanding of our religion should be supported by education and government institutions,” he said.

After the string of mass shootings in places of worship over the past six months, including at synagogues and churches, “Everyone is feeling the pain, not just one community,” the Muslim cleric added.

“Working together is a must, and understanding each other is a must,” he preached.

‘PROUD OF YOUR FAITH’

Dr. Aisha Subhani, an emergency room physician, has come face to face with prejudice.

She was working in a Broward hospital one night when a patient refused to be treated by her even though she was the only doctor on duty.

“The patient was angry and belligerent. He told the nurses he didn’t want to see a Muslim doctor because Muslims are terrorists,” Subhani recalled.

As the patient’s status improved, his attitude changed. He eventually thanked her.

“You can’t be behind closed doors. You have to be out there to dispel the fear or any kind of misunderstanding, so people can understand you in a human level,” said the doctor, born in Coral Gables to Pakistani parents.

That’s the message Muslim parents will instill in their children during Ramadan.

“They should be proud of their faith and tradition, and be willing to share it with friends,” said Subhani, who has a daughter, 16, and two sons aged 12 and 10.

Children are increasingly facing bullying at school, Muslim parents said. One family had an incident with their child and resolved it by speaking to the parents of the child doing the bullying.

Thus, the importance of teaching children to be confident and not feel ashamed of their faith, parents said.

It’s “an uphill battle,” stressed Siddiqui, the mother of the 11-year-old in Davie.

“I think that all this hate is bad,” said her son Ameen, an avid newspaper reader. “We need to come together and stand up against hate. I have hope for the future.”

RAMADAN OPEN HOUSES

▪ May 8, at 7:15 p.m., Islamic Jafferia Association, 10554 NW 132nd St. in Hialeah Gardens. To RSVP, call Jamil Rizvi at 305-607-1768 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

▪ May 9, at 7:15 p.m., Islamic Foundation of South Florida, 5455 NW 108th Ave. in Sunrise. Email Shehryar Wahid at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

▪ May 13, at 7:15 p.m., Islamic School of Miami-Al Noor Mosque in Kendall, 11699 SW 147th Ave. Call Naveed Anum at 786-512-3150 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

▪ May 14, 7:15 p.m., Islamic Center of Greater Miami — Miami Gardens Mosque, 4305 NW 183rd St. Call Khalid Mirza at 305-904-0074 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

▪ May 16, 22 and 28, 7:15 p.m., Islamic Center of Boca Raton, 3480 NW Fifth Ave., Boca Raton. Email Annie Hayat at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

▪ May 23, 7:15 p.m. at Masjid Al-Ansar, 5245 NW Seventh Ave., Miami. Call Alia Pasha at 305-467-9419 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.