How 9/11 Shaped These Muslim Leaders in New York

A couple of days after Sept. 11, Shahana Hanif organized a gathering together with her sisters and neighborhood buddies in the basement of her residence to draft a letter to President George W. Bush. Even although she was solely 10 years previous, she was already involved in regards to the shifting public opinions towards Muslim Americans.

“One of the first questions we asked each other was, ‘Can the president help us?’” mentioned Ms. Hanif, who was born and raised in Kensington, Brooklyn, the house of many Bangladeshi American households like her personal. “The president was the most powerful person who could send this mass message to the American people that this incident happened and it shouldn’t reflect how we think about Muslims across America.”

Mr. Bush didn’t write again. Mr. Bush didn’t write again. And in the next decade, few native leaders spoke out in opposition to the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk coverage, which enabled profiling and discrimination, or what many perceived to be the division’s surveillance of Muslims, which solely turned public data in 2011, or the wave of deportations enacted by the newly fashioned Department of Homeland Security.

Ms. Hanif and her Muslim friends who got here of age throughout that point would witness their communities deeply affected by these measures.

“What we realized and had to grapple with from a very young age was fighting for a more democratic city, fighting for equity without even knowing these terms,” Ms. Hanif mentioned. “We needed to grow up in a way to become the warriors of our communities.”

Ms. Hanif, now 30, is attempting to just do that. She is on observe to be elected the primary Muslim girl to serve on New York’s City Council, representing Brooklyn’s 39th District, which encompasses the Kensington neighborhood the place she grew up. For Ms. Hanif, the fallout from Sept. 11 turned a driving drive in her pursuit of politics. And she is just not alone: Other Muslims from her era are getting into New York’s electoral ranks, too.

It’s a vastly necessary second,” mentioned Mohammad Khan, 35, president of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York. “I think it shows the increasing relevance and power of Muslim New Yorkers,” he continued, citing the legacy and ongoing affect of Black Muslim leaders like State Senator Robert Jackson and Councilman I. Daneek Miller of Queens, the one Muslims who’ve served on the City Council to this point.

On Sept. 11, Mr. Khan was a junior at Stuyvesant High School, simply blocks from the World Trade Center. Like Ms. Hanif, he additionally sensed a shift in public perceptions towards Muslim Americans after the assaults. “Being Muslim felt like it became a lot more politicized as an identity,” he mentioned. “I think for some people there is a choice to either back away from that identity and try to make yourself less Muslim — whatever that means — or lean into that identity.”

But not everybody has the privilege to make that alternative, Mr. Khan acknowledged, particularly not Muslim girls in hijabs, whose visibility could make them targets. Without the choice to cover, many feminine Muslim leaders have determined to do what Mr. Khan talked about above, and lean into their identities.

But it hasn’t been straightforward. For instance, 12 years in the past, Rana Abdelhamid, a young person from Astoria, Queens, was assaulted by a person who tried to forcibly take away her hijab. She had a black belt in karate and managed to flee. But the expertise stayed together with her; she spent the subsequent decade growing a nonprofit that educated girls in self-defense, then entered politics. Now the 28-year-old neighborhood organizer is taking up Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, the longtime incumbent, to signify New York’s 12th District in Congress.

As Ms. Abdelhamid strives to make girls protected and empowered, she should confront Western stereotypes that outline Muslim girls as oppressed.

“The reality is all women experience the patriarchy, all women experience gender oppression,” she mentioned. The stereotyping, she mentioned, is “very frustrating because it does harm to gender movements within Muslim spaces, and that impacts Muslim women.”

Rana Abdelhamid is difficult Representative Carolyn B. Maloney for a seat in Congress. Credit…Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

In August, because the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Ms. Abdelhamid shared a picture on Twitter of Ms. Maloney carrying a burqa on the House ground. The picture was taken from 2001 throughout a speech in which the congresswoman denounced the therapy of ladies in Afghanistan as grounds for supporting President Bush’s choice to invade the nation.

“I was 9 years old when I watched my congresswoman wear a burqa in Congress to justify the invasion of Afghanistan,” Ms. Abdelhamid wrote. “For the rest of my life, I knew that as a Muslim woman my identity would be weaponized to justify American wars. 20 years of war later, what did we accomplish?”

(Ms. Maloney responded that she has been working straight with Afghan girls whose lives have been threatened by the Taliban. “My focus is getting as many women’s right activists as possible out of Afghanistan and into safety,” she mentioned. “As for wearing a burqa, it should be a woman’s right to choose what clothes to wear and to get an education.”)

For Linda Sarsour, 41, difficult stereotypes comes with the territory. As a co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, “I demystified every stereotype possible as a Muslim woman in hijab on the highest stage in America,” she mentioned. But the platform additionally got here with public scrutiny; in 2019, Ms. Sarsour and two different leaders of the Women’s March stepped down from the group amid complaints that the New York-based coalition was too insular.

Ms. Sarsour received her begin on the Arab American Association of New York in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the neighborhood the place she was born and raised, and one of many hardest hit by surveillance, detention and deportation measures in the wake of Sept. 11. The social service group scrambled then to rework itself right into a protection league of types, mentioned Ms. Sarsour, who saved a basket on her desk stuffed with F.B.I. enterprise playing cards that her shoppers discovered slipped underneath their doorways. From her workplace window, she additionally witnessed a police raid on a espresso store.

There have been SWAT groups, unidentified black vehicles, males with weapons, she recalled. “They literally had men lying on their bellies on the street.”

To get the Muslim neighborhood politically engaged at a time when most hoped to remain underneath the radar was very difficult, mentioned Ms. Sarsour, who persevered in her activism, cofounding the Muslim Democratic Club of New York in 2013 and pushing in the next years for New York City colleges to acknowledge Muslim holidays, which they made official in 2015.

Ms. Sarsour determined way back to not run for political workplace, realizing she might obtain extra behind the scenes, she mentioned. She is impressed by the work of Aisha al-Adawiya, 77, a Black Muslim chief and human rights activist whom Ms. Sarsour described as a “living legend.”

“You have to have a space where you can call people to accountability and that becomes very difficult to do once you’re inside the system,” Ms. al-Adawiya mentioned. “I think that change is really going to come from the streets.”

Still, Ms. Sarsour mentioned, illustration issues. “In the 20 years after Sept. 11, one of the things that has kept me here is that I see that our community is finally realizing that we have to reassert ourselves,” she mentioned. “I watched the era that was silenced after which I watch a brand new era arising now that’s fearless.”

Ms. Sarsour was among the many dozens at a ceremony commemorating Ms. Hanif’s main victory, held in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, in July. Surrounded by a gaggle of middle-aged “aunties” who participated in Hanif’s marketing campaign, Ms. Hanif famous that of her 1,100 volunteers, 90 p.c of them have been girls.

“Shahana is someone that I dreamed about 10 years ago,” Ms. Sarsour mentioned. “She’s a dream of our Democratic Club, manifested.”