The possibility of Eidul Azha to fall on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has stirred apprehension among Muslims in New York City and across the country at a time when violent acts committed by religious extremists have provoked inflammatory political rhetoric and helped fuel a surge in hate crimes against Muslims.
In New York, the possibility of the holiday falling on Sept. 11 has intensified security concerns and fears already reverberating throughout the Muslim community after the killings of an imam and his assistant in Queens this month. For some, it also resurfaces memories of the backlash and the police surveillance directed at Muslims in the years after the attacks.
Habeeb Ahmed, who was recently elected president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, noticed about two months ago a potentially fraught coincidence: Eidul Azha could fall on September 11. “Some people might want to make something out of that. I can easily foresee how some might misunderstand the festivities, and say, look at these Muslims, they are celebrating 9/11,” he said.
“Eidul Azha honours the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) to sacrifice his son Prophet Ismail (PBUH) as an act of submission to God’s command. The holy day can also serve as an opportunity to honour the sacrifice of those who were killed on September 11, 2001,” said Abdul Bhuiyan, the secretary-general of the Majlis Ashura, the Islamic Leadership Council of New York. “It’s a day of remembrance and observance,” he said.
“It’s on the mind of every Muslim leader in the country right now,” said Robert McCaw, the director of government affairs at the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We grieved like everyone else. We remember this day not because we are Muslim, but because we are American,” he added, referring to the September 11 attacks.
Nevertheless, local and national Muslim officials have urged imams and other leaders to talk to authorities and ensure that security is in place for the holiday, Bhuiyan said. “In New York City, the police have already been providing additional security at many mosques,” he said.
Tahir Kukiqi, the imam at the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center on Staten Island, said concerns about a potential backlash around the holiday resonated on a personal level. In June, a man entered Kukiqi’s mosque shouting expletives and yelling, “I am going to kill you” and “You are here to conquer us.”
The man grabbed a pipe from the wall and threatened the imam. As Kukiqi called 911, the man dropped the pipe and ran away. A suspect was later arrested and faced hate crime charges. “There is a lot of hate out there,” Kukiqi said. “And there is a lot of ignorance as well. This year’s Eidul Azha sermon will be more sombre than in previous years,” he added.
“We will be praying for their souls,” Kukiqi said, referring to the September 11 victims. We will be praying for the well-being of our country,” he said. Talking about the prospect of the Muslim holy day falling on September 11 he said, “We need to be mindful of it, but at the same time not be overburdened to the degree that it paralyses the community.”
Shamsi Ali, the imam at the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, said his congregation still intended to host its outdoor prayer service, expected to attract 20,000 people, one of the largest gatherings in New York City. Ali, along with several other imams in the city, plans to invite non-Muslim neighbours and religious leaders to attend services and learn about the significance of the holiday, while also praying for the September 11 victims. “If people are trying to build walls, we are building bridges,” Ali said. “That’s really what New York is all about,” he said.
Ali, along with several other imams in the city, plans to invite non-Muslim neighbours and religious leaders to attend services and learn about the significance of the holiday, while also praying for the September 11 victims. “If people are trying to build walls, we are building bridges,” Ali said. “That’s really what New York is all about,” he said.
In the past, another major Muslim holiday, Eidul Fitr, has fallen near September 11, but neither holidays have actually coincided.