NEW YORK - Though, the Muslim community in the US was confronted with various types of issues, discriminations and challenges in the post 9/11 era but the challenges brought opportunities also with them that made them more stronger bringing them together to face the challenges and fight back.

Javaid Tariq who hails from Pakistan wanted to become a photojournalist now happens to be a taxi driver in New York City. He is a member of the Executive Committee of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Founded in 1998, the alliance is the 15,000+ member strong union of NYC yellow taxicab drivers. The alliance fights “for justice, rights, respect and dignity” for the over 49,000 licensed NYC men and women taxicab drivers, a profession that traditionally many new immigrants including Muslim immigrants have entered.

According to him, most of the taxi drivers hail from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and Bangladeshi community constitute the largest number of people in New York. ‘The incident of September 11 created problems for the Muslim community and the taxi drivers were at risk due to hate crime against them. The Bush era kept feeding hatred against Muslims. And 99 per cent violent attacks occurred against Muslims belonging to Pakistan and Bangladesh”.

He says that about 10 cases of assaults have been held since 9/11 and there were many cases of verbal violence as people used abusive language asking the drivers to back to their countries. Recently a driver, Shajudur Rehman, was severely assaulted by a passenger as they got engaged in debate on religion but police did not arrive after many hours of the incident and the culprit is still at large.

Drivers do not file cases fearing that their licence would be suspended and reviewing the license would take a long time that would hinder their livelihood and the police also arrest the driver and the passenger both instead of helping the victim. He regretted that the response of police in such cases remains indifferent and the culprits in most of the cases remains at large. A bill was introduces in the parliament for the protection of drivers to award maximum punishment of 25 years that could not get approval of both the houses.

Young lawyers from Muslim Bar Association of New York and the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals said there were a lot of questions and curiosity among people about their religion and community but there were opportunities as well for the youngsters.

Earlier, the community was not united, busy with their routine livelihood matters and there were no institutional support as they never realised to institutionalise their power but difficulties made them realise that they need to constitute institutions and bodies to fight back. Now things have been getting better and the community is finding its voice.

Imam Yahya Hendi, Director of Muslim Chaplaincy, Georgetown University, said out of 300 million people of America 7 million are Muslims and majority of US Muslims are highly educated. About 17,000 Muslims are in army and there are professors and doctors as well in the country from Muslim community. 

Imam Omar at Islamic Cultural Centre of New York said though 9/11 traumatised the Muslim community, they lost their jobs, changed their names and women had to put off they scarves in order to not to be identified but they also enjoy freedom to practice their religion and hold rituals openly. He said Islam is the fastest spreading religion in America and in a month dozens of people convert to Islam. Islamophobia is a new phenomenon created by the media as Islam is against pornography, alcohol, gambling and pork industry that involved billions of dollars and those who have interests do not want Islam to be spread so create such misunderstandings. Interviews and discussions with the community representatives and members leaves an impression that there is a shift in the policy of the US government and to restore the confidence of the Muslim community it has taken a number of initiatives including the appointment of Special Representative to Muslim Communities, Farah Anwar Pandith and Special Envoy to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Rashad Hussain. 

Besides, nongovernmental organizations, trusts and initiatives of Muslim community themselves and different projects run by the government such as Islamic Cultural Centre of New York, Interfaith Centre of New York, American Society for Muslim Advancement, Council for Advancement of Muslim Professionals, Council of Shia Professionals, Malcolm X and Dr Betty Shahbazz Memorial and Education Centre etc. have been working to make the country safe for religious difference by increasing respect and mutual understanding among people of different faith, ethnic, and cultural traditions to solve common social problems.

The Foreign Press Centre, US State Department had arranged meetings of a select group of media persons with the community representatives and officials who were on a visit to Washington, DC, and New York as part of a weeklong programme “the Many Faces of Islam in America”.