N.J. Muslim leaders condemn Florida shooting, defend their faith

Barry Carter
By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger

Mustafa El-Amin the Imam at Masjid Ibrahim, a mosque located on Chancellor Avenue, is one of the leaders in Newark’s muslim community who are in lock step with President Obama for calling out Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. They say Trump’s rhetoric and shootings by individuals who do not represent Islam make it difficult for the religion to be accepted. Newark, NJ

Imam Mustafa El-Amin

The interfaith service for one of the world’s most recognizable Muslims was bound in unity and cloaked in understanding and peace.

An imam, two rabbis, a Catholic priest, a Mormon and a Native American leader were among the speakers who celebrated Muhammad Ali’s life last week.

“That’s the oneness of humanity,” said Imam Mateen Aqeel, of Newark’s Masjid Ash-Shifaa. “That’s what we believe.”

Aqeel and other Muslim leaders in Newark do not see that humanity in Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, who continues to sully the name of Islam with divisive bigotry and rhetoric.

Imam Aqeel Mateen

And it’s definitely not in Omar Mateen, a Florida man who killed 49 people and injured 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando before dying in a shootout with police.

These leaders say Trump’s logic, that Muslim immigrants should be temporarily banned from the United States, does as much damage to the Islamic community as Mateen’s horrific act.

Imam Mustafa El-Amin, of Masjid Ibrahim in Newark, said having to defend your faith time and time again is frustrating on many levels.  “Here we go again,” he said.

He has a daughter in college. He thinks about her safety, how she and many other Muslim women could be targeted for violence because they wear a hijab (a headscarf).

El-Amin said Islam embraces peace, even though these incidents continue to challenge the reality of their faith.

“It makes our job harder in saying that our religion is about peace and that we condemn those actions,” El-Amin said. “Every time we do something, you have somebody go and do something like this.”

In the past, El-Amin has aired television commercials explaining what Islam is and what it is not. He’s doing it again during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month currently taking place during which Muslims fast and spend time in prayer.
Newark’s Muslim leaders said President Obama’s blunt criticism of Trump on Tuesday was on point as he called out the GOP frontrunner on his dangerous mindset about Muslims.

In addition to his proposed ban on Muslims, Trump has implied that Obama approves of the terror attacks because he refuses to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism. ‘Trump’s rationale is rooted in conspiracy theories that Obama is a closeted Muslim or that he is not a real American and was born outside the United States.

Obama said not using the term “radical Islamic terrorism” has no bearing on how his administration deals with ISIS and that Trump’s views go against the Constitution and contradict religious freedom.

“That’s not the America we want,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect our democratic ideals.”

Daud Haqq

Imam Daud Haqq

Imam Daud Haqq, of Nia Masjid & Community Center in Newark, said Trump is uninformed and his inflammatory remarks are centered on making people afraid, not united.

“That’s been his tone all along, which demonstrates he doesn’t have a proper understanding of the issues in this country,” Haqq said.

“The president is very focused in making sure that the country doesn’t lose its focus. We cannot allow (any)body to throw us off as to what is supposed to be the path of our nation.”

More than 80 Muslim organizations in New Jersey this week condemned the killings in Florida through a collaborative statement, in which they extended their condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.

“Hate, bigotry and violence are our common enemy and we reject the hate and anger that leads to his kind of acts of violence,” according to the statement they released.

One of those organizations is the Council on American-Islamic Relations for New Jersey. Its executive director, James Sues, said a lot of things Trump has talked about in the past were nonsense and “it seems he’s making less and less sense as the days go by.”

But as the story about the Orlando massacre developed, Haqq, Aqeel and El-Amin said they had hoped the shooter wasn’t someone with a Muslim name. They know the routine, what’s being said about their community, how critics will use that terrorist act to malign their faith.

They get tired of the double standard of seeing their religion under attack when others who commit similar atrocities are not labeled as terrorists.

They also don’t buy into the argument that Muslims are not doing enough to diffuse potential situations.

In the midst of such unfortunate times, Aqeel said the incident spurs questions from people who have preconceived notions about Islam.

“They may go into it with a negative question, but wind up getting a positive answer, because of the misrepresentations of what some people may do in the name of religion,” he said. “The best dialogue is to live the religion.”

Ali knew what he was doing when he planned his funeral – showing that people of different faiths and nationalities can live together. It’s too bad that this theme is often lost when incidents such as these shootings occur.
Hopefully, there’s a shift toward goodwill in the days ahead.

Barry Carter: (973) 836-4925 or bcarter@starledger.com or nj.com/carter or follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL

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