I Am A Muslim Too

By Christine McKenna -- Several thousand New Yorkers of wide-ranging religious beliefs -- Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and atheist -- gathered in Times Square on February 19 to protest Islamophobia and the recent executive order on refugees.

Dubbed "I Am A Muslim Too," the rally was organized by the non-profit organization Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) as a day of solidarity in support of equality and tolerance towards Muslims.

"We've been fighting Islamophobia for many years but there is a shift towards more hate crime and more hate," said FFEU Chairman and hip-hop artist Russell Simmons. Also pictured here are fellow rally organizers, (l) Imam Shamsi Ali and (r) Rabbi Marc Schneier.

"Our Muslim brothers and sisters have not only been demonized, but they have also been the victims," said Simmons. "They are the greatest victims of terrorism. They are also our greatest allies in fighting terrorism."

Rally masters of ceremony Dean Obeidallah and Judy Gold led the crowd in a chant, "Love trumps hate, love trumps hate."

Rabbi Marc Schneier said the executive order on Muslim refugees had historical parallels to thousands of Jews during the Nazi era who were refused entry into the states. Members of the interfaith coalition, he said, recognize that they share a common fate and a single destiny.

"We see each and every Muslim as a child of God, just as we are, who is entitled to be treated with the dignity, the justice and compassion that we claim for ourselves," said Schneier.

Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour also referred to history, telling the crowd that it was the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 signed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt that began internment of Japanese Americans. She asked the crowd to “commit to being part of the true, never-again generation." Here a rally participant wears a patriotic hijab.

Imam Shamsi Ali of the Jamaica Muslim Center said all Americans should be concerned that the president had become an obstacle to Muslim integration.

"I have been defending this country everywhere I go, because I love this country dearly,” said Shamsi Ali, originally from Indonesia. “How can I defend America as a tolerant place if the president is on the front lines spreading poisonous hate in the minds of Americans?"

"As salaam alaikum," said New York City Councilman Brad Lander of District 39, who said he brought greetings from more than 500 local elected officials in more than 40 states who passed resolutions against anti-Muslim bigotry.

Mayor Bill de Blasio thanked the 900 Muslim members of the NYPD for supporting the rights of New Yorkers to rally and protest.

"Think about the origins of this country, a country founded by people fleeing religious persecution, a country founded to respect all faiths and all beliefs," said the mayor. "This is who we are as Americans and this must be protected."

Rev. Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki, president of the Buddhist Council of New York, offered this from the Buddha. “Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world. By non-hatred alone is hatred appeased. This is a law eternal.”

The crowd was a diverse range of New Yorkers, including children. Chelsea Clinton tweeted that it was the first protest for her 2-year-old.

It was a multilingual protest that featured a call to prayer that echoed along Broadway.

The protest was held under breaking news billboards which often proved relevant.

For the most part a very peaceful gathering, there were some tense moments.

And a bit of proselytizing by one rather animated young woman praising Jesus.

Vendors were on hand to with flags, buttons and placards.

Susan Sarandon said silence on the subject of refugees was complicity. “We are here because we will not be a cog in the machine that is dismantling our Constitution, that is dismantling our Bill of Rights,” she said.

“It is important for us to keep our representatives accountable," said Sarandon. "We want to be an open city, to be an accepting city. We will fight hatred with love, we will fit bigotry with inclusivity and I today am a Muslim too."

Rally organizer Russell Simmons, who has known Donald Trump for decades, told the crowd he was not going to criticize the president but instead thank him for bringing so many people together.

De Blasio said his message as mayor was this: "Regardless of your background, your faith, where you were born, this is your city. This is your country too."

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