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Guide to the Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories 2018.006

Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn 11201

Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Elena Locascio

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on June 13, 2019
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Revised by Maggie Schreiner to reflect updated access restrictions.  , April 2019

Biographical / Historical

In 1907, a community of Lipka Tatar immigrants from Eastern Europe founded the American Mohammedan Society in Brooklyn. Over the next few decades, the borough's first mosques were established, including both the American Mohammedan Society's Brooklyn Moslem Mosque in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and the Islamic Mission of America on State Street (also known as Dawood Mosque) in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. By the second half of the twentieth century, policy changes and political volatility on the national and global stages greatly expanded the presence of Muslims in Brooklyn through large waves of both spiritual and physical migrations.

The Nation of Islam's resurgence among African Americans throughout the 1950s and 1960s was particularly strong in New York, whose Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan was home to one of the Nation of Islam's largest temples. By 1963, the Nation of Islam's New York Minister Malcolm X had opened mosques elsewhere in the city, including Mosque No. 7C (later known as Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah) in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The community underwent significant reforms following the transfer of leadership from Elijah Muhammad upon his death in 1975 to his son Warith Deen Mohammed, including a shift toward Sunni Islam tenets. These changes ultimately led to local and national rifts within the Nation of Islam, and were a catalyst for the establishment of Masjid At-Taqwa in 1981, also located in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Brooklyn's Muslim immigrant communities also experienced significant growth during that time. The American Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished quotas that favored primarily Christian countries in Europe, broadening the geographic and religious diversity among immigrants to the United States. Successive waves of immigration included greater proportions of emigrants from primarily Muslim countries in Africa and Asia, many of whom settled in Brooklyn. In the following decades, many communities blossomed, including (but not limited to) Muslim Pakistani communities in the Brighton Beach and Flatbush neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the Muslim Bangladeshi communities in the Kensington and East New York neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and interfaith Arab communities in the Midwood and Bay Ridge neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

Islamophobia became more pronounced after the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Harassment, detentions, and deportations rose, and in the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the New York Police Department pursued a policy of religiously-motivated surveillance of Muslim communities throughout the city. After the surveillance was revealed, the Raza v. City of New York lawsuit was filed in June 2013 on behalf of some of the Brooklyn-based individuals and institutions whose religious or social missions had been harmed by policy. The courts ultimately found in the plaintiffs' favors, requiring the city to pay damages and make significant changes to their policies surrounding surveillance of religious groups going forward.

Attacks on Muslim communities also escalated when 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a ban on all Muslim people entering the country. After he took office, his administration crafted Executive Order 13769, and despite a series of court challenges, including the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii allowed implementation of most of the ban. During this period, hate crimes against Muslim Americans also increased across the United States, including in Brooklyn.

The social and institutional hostility directed at many Muslim Americans throughout that period, especially during the early part of the twenty-first century, sowed significant anxiety and suspicion among many in Muslim communities. Consequent fears for their safety and security led some Muslim Americans to withdraw from public life. For others, it contributed to a surge in activism, political engagement, charitable work, advocacy, and involvement in cultural institutions. Many Muslim Brooklynites in particular were leading voices in these efforts, including Linda Sarsour's co-chairing the nationwide Women's March on Washington in 2017 for equality and Debbie Almontaser's leadership in organizing the Yemeni Bodega Strike at Brooklyn Borough Hall in 2017.