There isn’t a more important time for each of us to understand the largest Muslim community in the United States. New York City has 285 mosques, more than any U.S. city by far, and more than any other state. There are more Muslims in New York City than anywhere else in the country. The growth of Muslims is another indicator that New York City is no longer the Secular City but a postsecular city, setting a pattern that we are also beginning to see in Europe and elsewhere.
In our first year of operation in 2010, Journey immediately jumped into the controversy over whether to allow a mosque to be established near Ground Zero. We noticed that the public discussions were based on out-of-date data and didn’t include many voices that were crucial to the debate. So, we ran a dozen OpEds by various religious leaders. This seemed to help to quiet the controversy except for some professional controversialists and their media enablers.
This year, we launched Mosque City NY to fill some critical gaps in our knowledge about Muslims across the city. The multi-part feature has provided essential data, stories, and visuals. It is an unprecedented look at Muslims in America through the lens of one city. We hope it serves you well and our city, country, and the rest of the world too.
The debates on the number, beliefs, and attitudes of American Muslims are so intense that we wanted to end up with a statistical portrait that was generally acceptable to all sides. A hopeless task, you might say. We thought it could be a challenging data-driven journalism project.
A Journey through NYC religions traveled thousands of miles to find every mosque, even those tucked away in parking lots, basements and alleyways. Some were very difficult to find; some were difficult to enter; and some had significant language barriers. But in the end, through patience, the practice of sympathetic objectivity, and the combined language skills of the Journey team, we were able to negotiate access.
We utilized our own statistical collections and interviews as well as data collections and analysis from Public Religion Research Institute, The PEW Center, The Mosque Project and other expert sources. Our Journey Data Center with its experienced team of interviewers and analysts cross-referenced and teased out new stories about Muslims in New York City and its surrounding area.
Here are our stories on Mosque City NY:
-- Click on each photo for further info on Mosque City NY --
American Muslims are still developing their educational programs. Most theological training still takes place online or overseas. We followed the journey of an imam from the so-called Islamic hotspot of Bradford, England to his position as imam of a Bronx mosque. We also updated and republished our look at Koran memorization and summer school programs for Muslim youth.
During the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings by a radicalized Muslim couple, we interviewed the professors and students at a new Islamic seminary-level certificate program at New York Theological Seminary and observed their classes.
Three were imams, one a sheikh, and another heads a social service program. Several had served time in prison (some for a long time). Yet, they had an experience of coming out of “the belly of the whale,” which is what they call prison, into a productive, even compassionate life with high moral rectitude. The acceptance of Islam was a major feature of their life-turnaround. This classroom is Ground Zero for the defense. It was a hum of activity: questions; responses; critical thinking; and the discussion of current events. Now, they are studying how to promote a better treatment of women by Muslim men. The psychologist Sheikh T.A. Bashir specializes in dealing with abusive relationships.
The classroom is like a Muslim treasure chest for New York City. There are civic riches here: the bringing out of people from violence and crime, the healing of families, cultural enrichment, and through superior theological education, a successful counterattack against the terrorist propagandists.
Muslims in the city have been so successful in turning up the bad stones of wannabee terrorists that a new problem is that the wannabees don’t tell anyone in the mosque or even stop going. This means that it will be harder to prevent actual domestically-originated attacks unless there is a pervasive cultural change through superior education.
A Journey has covered the efforts to integrate Muslims and their unique contributions into New York City. In a question-and-answer feature Imam Shamsi Ali talked about his and Rabbi Marc Schneir's efforts. Imam Ali is chairman of the Al-Hikmah Mosque and the director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens.
A Journey through NYC religions also took the opportunity of Pope Francis’ gathering of religious leaders at the 911 Memorial to promote a public dialogue between the Pope and city Muslim leaders.
The year of 2015 ended painfully. African American leaders of Mosque City NY reflected on how they processed the San Bernardino shootings.
A Journey through NYC religions has found that affirmation of the beauties and usefulness of cultural productions of various religious groups creates practical grounds for deep cultural commitments to religious tolerance and community unity. In Mosque City NY we featured beautiful Muslim aesthetics, cultural contributions like new foods and restaurants, and the historical roots of Islam in New York City.
Retrospectives on Mosque City NY:
The battle line for the American Dream is here. Muslim Americans are some of our best people, our braviest soldiers, and wonderful neighbors. We don’t tolerate them here at A Journey through NYC religions: we love them, just as we do for Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, non-religious and other types of believers. How could we do other than bless our fellow New Yorkers who gamefully and gracefully face such challenges on our behalf as they do today? We are the City of Love, the City of Blessing, and the City of Mysteries of millions of stories that in some enriching way are our own too.