The revival of Islam came about in the Arabian Peninsula but today in every corner of the world, we find a Muslim practicing Islam, reading the Quran and living a lifestyle of peace. Those that were not raised as a Muslim sometimes think that they have to somehow make a choice as to whether or not they will continue to acknowledge their cultural heritage when they become a Muslim. The beauty of Islam is that it does not ask an individual to destroy their individuality. We can still follow customs and traditions that we were raised with, just as long as they are in accordance with Islam. Today we see Islam on every continent, small in some areas but thriving in those that have found their happiness with Islam. Within the U.S. there are communities that have shattered the idea that Islam is exclusively for people from Africa, Middle East or Asia. In reality, the Muslim community is inclusive of everyone. The diversity in Islam is something to be valued and embraced as a means to unify and rekindle it’s lost kinship. The diversity is a reminder that we came from a singular being, Adam (may peace be upon Him) and have sprouted to a hodgepodge of political lines, customs and beliefs. Yet, thanks to God, we are united as one body and can pray side by side with an individual from a different background that we may never find in our own cultural enclave.
Still unbeknownst to many, there is a Latin Muslim community thriving within the US and in Latin America and growing day by day. The phenomena of the growing and diverse Latin Muslim community received exposure in the 50th Annual Hispanic Day Parade in NYC, which gathered 18 Latin American countries in a single event. This annual gathering is one of the most colorful scenes in NYC, as it features the folkloric culture of every Latin American country. The themes are played in music, dance and costumes. The Hispanic Parade committee that organizes the event allows each group that participates to demonstrate their unique character.
Our goal in participating in this parade was to demonstrate that within the mostly Christian Hispanic Community, there exists a diverse Hispanic Muslim community from countries such as Puerto Rico, Mexico, Cuba, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia and Dominican Republic. We wanted to show that we are just as proud of our heritage and that our faith does not separate us from our roots. It in fact brings us closer to these roots as it is a community-oriented way of life, which praises fellowship among humanity. Hispanic Muslims still share the same passion and love for their family as the rest of the Latin Community throughout the world. Islam does not restrict anyone from participating in such events and marching peacefully with our Christian friends that share our cultural heritage. What mattered most in our participation is that it was a public venue with thousands of spectators who have probably never witnessed Muslims gathered in one of largest parades in NYC. Our participation demonstrated that we are not closed off from society, and that our beliefs do not separate us. It unifies us all.
Our theme of unity was displayed through a colorful float which consisted of an arch displaying the words “Un Creador, Una Familia, Una Planeta” (One Creator, One Family, One Planet), with a two dimensional globe underneath that. On the back panel of the float we displayed the message “Somos Musulmanes Hispanos”-the headscarves on each women and men donning long beards and thobe’s, and the Latin American flags we held were the real symbols of who we are. Our float was designed to give a message of unity and to show Islam in a positive light.
In preparing for this event, many of us wondered how the crowd would react to our participation. As this is a day where thousands of people are gathered with a sense of pride and happiness to see their country being represented, I knew that the overall happy nature of the event would be reflected in the spectator’s view of us. As we passed them in our float, there were flags waving back at us, shouting the name of their country at us and some glaring while taking a moment to read the message on our float. The NYPD officers that were guarding the event were mostly serious in their gestures. On the other hand I noticed a few officers crack soft smiles at us and one that snapped a picture as he stood in front of a divider. There was one particular spectator that showed his enthusiasm when he saw us passing by throwing his fist in the air followed by a kiss on his knuckles, in what I see as a symbol of solidarity with the struggle Muslim’s are facing. Further on, a man waving his flag yelled “Alhamdulillah”, a commonly used Arabic word meaning all praise be To God. A man and a woman from Columbia whom were parade participants there to march with a different group, decided to jump in along with us instead, and asked a fellow participant, Abdullah who was holding a Palestine and Guatemalan flag, for his Palestine flag. The two proceeded to walk among us and wave the Palestine flag to the crowd. These situations were unexpected by us, but it made me feel as if though the struggle we are facing is not as deep as some of us may think.
What I learned from this event is the impact a positive message has on the way people view us. When we show the world a positive message, the only thing that we can get in return is even more love and positivity. This is extremely valuable in a time when hateful speech towards Islam is louder than the kinder rational voice in Islam. It helps to discourage listeners of hateful speech towards Muslims to accept this rejection and hatred as something reasonable. On the contrary, justifying our beliefs through endless debates creates a notion that it’s okay to use a person’s faith to understand why bad things happen. It creates an atmosphere where it’s okay to generalize and categorize people by the actions of a smaller group. It promotes bigotry and justifies hostility among people. What we do not see in the media are the people who support us, empathize with our struggle and want to see the Muslim community demonstrate even more acts of peace that refute what the media says. It does not showcase individuals that want to march with us and show their solidarity by waving their fist in the air when they see us striving. These people do exist and will continue to stand with us as long as we continue to show our gratitude and desire for peace.
Mohammed Omer contribution
My focus is generally on one of the most hard hit areas, Khuza’a, east of Khan Younies, south Gaza Strip. I was the first to get into Khuza’a during ceasefire to find massive damage. My contribution will focus on three main cases:
Mohammed Tawfiq Qudeh, 64 year-old who used to live in Khuza’a before Israeli troops invaded his area.
Qudeh family is among those survivors I met in the first ceasefire. I have focused my investigations of the execution of Mr. Qudeh. His home has come under constant bombardment, while bulldozers tried to break into one of the side of his home. Mr. Qudeh told his family he would open the door and talk peacefully with the Israeli soldiers, explaining to them that there were only civilians in the house. The man spoke to them in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish. He told his family that using the languages would help to avoid any misunderstandings.
He moved closer, speaking softly and politely in all four languages.
”Please don’t shoot me,” he said to the Israeli troops.
Suddenly, a muffled shot came from a short, blonde-haired, blue-eyed soldier holding an M-16 in his shaking hands. He was only about 20-years-old. Raghad, 20-years-old and Buthina Qudeh, 35 years-old told me of all details of what happened to her family.
Raghad Qudeh stands outside her uncle’s home in Khuza’a where she says an Israeli soldier executed him on 25 July
-Khalil Al-Najjar the Imam of the mosque of Khuza’a who was at his brother’s home with his mother, siblings, in-laws, and children – 15 family members in all. They were under constant Israeli-artillery fire all night, not knowing what would happen with each passing second, apart from bombs raining around them.
“A tank shell hit, and there was heavy black smoke in the building, so we ran under the staircase to hide and rest for a few minutes,” Najjar told me.
As the bombing continued, automatic gunfire was heard outside. “We shouted out that we were civilians. But more bullets were fired after we declared ourselves as civilians,” said Najjar who, at 55-years-old, is a well-known and highly respected imam in his community.
A few minutes later, a military dog rushed into the home, terrifying the children – the imam shouted out in Hebrew to the soldiers behind a wall riddled with bullet-holes: “We are civilians, we have children and babies with no medicine or milk.”
The soldiers shouted back, in Hebrew, ordering him and the family to: “Get out, one by one”.
“In front of all these women, I was forced to undress until I was naked, at gunpoint,” recalls the imam, while walking through the destruction in his neighbourhood.
The imam was soon ordered to dress and was ushered outside at gunpoint along with his brother. Najjar was then told to walk ahead of the soldiers down the center of the street, while calling on all young residents to come outside and surrender.
Dr. Kamal Qudeh, a doctor serving this small village near Gaza’s border with Israel.
His story starts when the initial Israeli attack started, when it came, was unexpected. On July 17, Israeli F16s dropped leaflets ordering people to leave their homes before a ground offensive started on 20 July.
“The day [20 July] came, but all seemed normal in Khuza’a. So people returned, thinking the leaflets had been a false alarm. Then, on 21 July, in the afternoon, an Israeli F16 missile hit the main road connecting Khuza’a with neighbouring villages,” Dr Qudeh told me.
This left him as the only in his area that could offer health care.
He told me “We had to make a decision to go by ourselves, without protection, and get to the village entrance. There were around 2,000 of us, walking toward Israeli tanks … I told the Israelis, ‘We are civilians, unarmed, and we needed safe shelter, that we have women, children and elderly and we want to evacuate peacefully”
The Israeli troops replied through loudspeakers that there was no coordination and everyone should return home. “We stayed there, standing, hoping they would have compassion and let us through,” said Dr Qudeh.
While he was treating victims inside, the outside area of my clinic was hit by two Israeli drone missiles – window glass shattered on those receiving treatment, and scores more people were injured outside.
At this time, his own brother – Ahmed Qudeh – and many family members, including his sister, sustained injuries. Dr Qudeh himself suffered shrapnel injuries to his leg and arm.
At 6 am, Israel troops fired tear gas, leaving people stunned and in respiratory distress – they had to help each other breathe using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
At 7 am, an Israeli missile hit the basement. “The door was blown off and we had to escape. I shouted out: “All of you, come this way to get out of here, come on!”
About 2,000 people were outside on the street and were met by Israeli tanks. This time, they were allowed to pass, though only for about 500 meters before being led onto a sandy road full of holes and tracks left by Israeli bulldozers.
“The road was covered with cactus thorns and stones crushed by heavy machines, and we were mostly barefoot and naked from top to bottom showing Israeli troops that we were unarmed and just civilians,” he told me. “We are peaceful, men, women and children, young and elderly who want safety” – this was what we told the Israeli troops.”
Dr Qudeh and others carried some 130 injured people on their shoulders. On the way, an elderly man – Ismail Abu Rejela- was killed by random fire. Other patients were pulled on donkey carts as they made their way to Nasser Hospital, in Khan Younies, about two hours walk to the west.
So to my surprise there was a Muslim Day Parade in New York City. I never knew such a parade even existed and neither did my husband who for most of his years as a Muslim, has been pretty active with several Muslim organizations across the US. I found out about the event while searching for themes for a Muslim parade float (I’ll get back to my reason for searching that later). Sadly, in my google searches, I mostly came across websites that critiqued the parade and used anything they found at the parade to bash Islam with their narrow extremist views. The hottest topic among the bashing was the jihadi flag or what is now known as the ISIS flag. This flag that many are associating with this evil group, is simply the Muslim declaration of faith, what we call the shahada. The flag is usually in either black or white and in Arabic letters says
“I bear witness that there is no deity (none truly to be worshipped) but, Allah, and I bear witness that Mohammad is the messenger of Allah.”
The transliteration is something like this “ASH-HADU ANLA ELAHA ILLA-ALLAH WA ASH-HADU ANNA MOHAMMADAN RASUL-ALLAH”.
This flag is not something that represents terror, beheadings or any evil. If anyone carried this flag in the parade last year, there’s a good chance that they were simply doing so out of their pride for Islam and to showcase one of the most important concepts in our faith. I don’t think anyone carried this flag this year because it’s being plastered all over the media as being associated with a group that is completely un-Islamic in every shape and form. For more information on the controversy over this flag feel free to read http://www.islam21c.com/politics/banning-the-isis-flag-will-outlaw-the-muslim-declaration-of-faith/
When I first arrived to the parade, around 1 p.m. , we arrived at the corner of 35th street and Madison avenue, where the parade starts. The first group that began the march was the NYPD band, with the NYPD Muslim Officers Society group following behind them.
A Mexican flag was proudly hung over the parade divider. We all have a right to celebrate!
The kaba rolled out on a float with everyone just chilling on the float!
Something that warmed my heart was the Jewish group that marched in the parade holding signs in their support for Gaza. My husband and I tip our hats to these courageous Jews that stand up for humanity!
One of the most interesting moments of the parade was the political demonstrations made to highlight US support of Egypt’s President Sisi. Three masked men – Obama, Cheney and Kerry, walked in front of “Sisi” whom stood on a rolling chariot holding a whip that he used to strike the pavement. It was quite a sight to see and probably nothing too shocking for the average New Yorker. We decided to walk along with the short parade , from where I was able to witness the expressions of the spectators watching this demonstration. Some people looked at him in disgust, I heard one muslim woman say “This is disgusting!”, then shortly after 2 women in front of us were complaining that the media does enough to depict Muslims in a violent manner-there was no need to act like this in a parade. The average New Yorker may not be familiar with politics in Eypt, so we can’t expect everyone passing by to understand the significance of this demonstration- to this person it may seem like something barbaric, but to the Egyptians that have lost their loved ones, their rights, their former President Morsi, whom they elected in a democratic election – it means so much more.
My dear Palestine, we will never forget you. We will always stand beside you and remind others of your constant struggle, your courage, strength and determination to rise high above those that oppress you.
Some folks are not shy about showing their love for Muslims.
After taking the picture above, he asked me to also photograph the back of his shirt, which showed his true objective. HA!
It’s all good, we welcome everyone at our parade =)