May 1, 2017

Religious Discrimination

One of the great things about living in New York City is witnessing the diversity among all types of communities and neighborhoods. Being in America, we have the freedom to believe what we want to believe, and the right to worship freely. But when do those freedoms become limited? This page will discuss the different challenges Muslims and Jews have faced while living in New York City, and what the city is doing to ensure freedom of religion.

 I Am Muslim

Early Beginnings

Even before 9/11 happened, Muslim-Americans struggled to find their place in American society. Certain laws were passed that restricted Muslim-Americans from becoming citizens. The Naturalization Act of 1790 blocked them and only let “free white persons” to become citizens. The FBI kept watch on Muslims, as they were deemed questionable and suspicious, simply because they were different from a white man.

Finally in 1965, the United States loosened the restrictions on immigration, and many Muslim immigrants came to America. Today, it is estimated that there is a large population of 6 to 8 million Muslims living in the United States right now.

Many people believe that the term ‘Islamophobia’ surfaced after 9/11, but it actually was developed in 1991. It is defined by the Runnymede Trust Report as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims.” As you continue reading, the effects of Islamophobia will be discussed, in addition to how NYC, specifically, is combating this issue.

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Effects of 9/11 – Before & After

Below is a column graph of the number of hate crimes that occurred against Muslims. This data was taken by the FBI, and it compares the time period before September 11, 2001, and the years after 2001. If you scroll over each column, it will list out the number of incidents that occurred for that year. It is clear that there was a drastic increase in hate crimes in 2001, the year in which 9/11 occurred. It then dropped by over 50% and remained stagnate in the years after, but still remained higher than the amount before 2001.

Muslims are seen as the enemy in this situation, but people don’t realize that Muslims also lost family and friends during the tragic event. The Daily News reported on Muslims who lost family in the towers, but were accused of being a terrorist and carrying bombs. Mehmet Ibis went down to Manhattan to search for his brother who worked in the towers, and was approached by a New Jersey Transit officer who screamed, “Where’s the bomb?” Ibis was then arrested and was accused of being a terrorist, after police found him with a BB gun. Another victim of false accusations was Talat Hamdani, who lost her son, a first-responder police cadet, in the towers. The NYPD questioned her and was suspicious of her son in being a part of the event. The NYPD were suspicious of their own officer, looking at physical appearance first, rather than looking for the facts. These were a few of the earlier incidents in which police are judging based off of appearance who is considered a “terrorist.”


A controversy about an Islamic community center, Park 51, emerged in 2010. The community center was being built just a couple of blocks away from the World Trade Center site, and many people felt that the construction of it was insensitive to the families who lost loved ones in the towers. Many protests erupted, for and against the center. Muslims argued it was their right and freedom of religion to have this center placed where it was planned to be built.×307.jpg

Reported in the Daily News, Victor Hernandez says an interesting statement: “The terrorists win when we don’t allow people their freedoms.” He does have point, because the terrorists wanted America to break, and they attempted to do that buy attacking us. If Americans turn against each other, we’re giving exactly what the terrorists wanted to achieve.

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Present Time: Joined as One

With the recent presidential election of President Donald Trump, people are in fear of what the future may hold. During his campaign, President Trump instilled fear in his supporters, as well as Muslims, when he talked about terrorists and announced a ban on the entry of Muslims. The New York Times has reported an increase in hate crimes, and how Mr. Trump may have been a cause of these crimes.

When President Trump passed his new immigration laws, New York City was deeply affected. At John F. Kennedy airport, people gathered together to protest the Muslim ban and to welcome in the immigrants.

View of protesters at a New York City airport protesting the ban

“‘I was hopeless, but seeing this,’ he said as he pointed to the crowds of people holding welcome signs, ‘this gives me hope.'” The actions of fellow New Yorkers and people all around the country signify the unity that we are trying to bring, and to convey to message of equality and human rights.

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What’s NYC Doing About This?

A few of the things NYC is doing is holding free workshops about “Understanding Islam,” and different events are being held to bring awareness. NYC is also reaching out to different branches of social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, with the hashtag, “IAmMuslimNYC.”

Click the photo to learn more about what NYC is doing to help Muslims

Mayor De Blasio is very committed to serving the Muslim community, by celebrating Muslim traditions and meeting with Muslim community leaders. He wants people to learn more about diversity and wants all Muslims to feel safe and welcomed here in New York City.

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I Am Jewish

Above is data from the FBI, which reports the number of hate crimes that occurred against different religions during the years 1996 – 2014. From the data, hate crimes occur more frequently against the Jews than against other religions. It has decreased since 2000, but there is still a wide difference between anti-Jewish and the other religions.

Early Tensions

According to “New York Jewish History” from the New York State Archives, anti-semitism became more prominent during the Jim Crow era, which started in the 1870s and lasted until the start of the civil rights movement in the 1970s.

A majority of civil rights attorneys in the South during the 1960s were Jewish. One would think that they would have good relations with the African American community, however that did not seem to be the case. Anti-Semitism was increasing within the black community, because the Jews’ efforts for civil rights didn’t change the fact that they were still white. There were tensions between these two communities – communities that have both faced discrimination in one way or another.

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Present Issues

Below is data from the NYPD, and it reports the change in hate crimes from the years 2016 to 2017. According to these numbers, semitic hate crimes have increased by 94%, one of the highest out of the other motivations. There have been 35 anti-semitic cases reported in 2017 so far, as opposed to 18 in 2016.

A few of these cases involve Jewish centers in Manhattan and Brooklyn receiving messages of hate, swastikas drawn on stairwells of the Independence Towers in Williamsburg, and anti-semitic graffiti in subway cars. The NYPD reports that there has been a spike in hate crimes since this past Election day. There were 30 incidents reported since the election and 15 of those were anti-semitic. Mayor De Blasio links such an increase in hate crimes to President Trump and the language that he used during his campaign.

Despite these hate crimes, we can see how New Yorkers are trying to fight back. When presented to anti-semitic graffiti in the subway car, a few passengers worked to erase the slurs.

Taken by Gregory Locke – passenger erasing anti-semitic graffiti

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What’s NYC Doing About This?

The large increase in anti-semitic events have been brought to the attention of many officials in New York. Reported by the New York Post, Mayor Bill De Blasio has “vowed a crackdown” on these hate crimes against the Jewish community.

Governor Cuomo is also taking a role in combating anti-semitism. He passed a $25 million grant program to increase security and protect New York schools from hate crimes and anti-semitism. He also opened a hate crimes text line, which allows people to report discrimination by texting ‘HATE’ to 81336.

Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has also committed herself in helping combating this issue. She wants more federal action to be taken and for the creation of an “anti-Semitism task force.” Moreover, she wants a “standard definition for anti-Semitism” and wants the Department of Education to use that definition to educate students about this topic.

“Combating anti-Semitism and any kind of hate-driven crime must be a multi-pronged effort. While we rely on law enforcement to keep us safe and bring the perpetrators to justice, we must also engage in community education efforts to stop the hatred before it starts or escalates,” said Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12).

Carolyn Maloney with Jewish Community Leaders

Congresswoman Maloney brings up a good point about community effort. If we want to make a change, then the people is where it starts. Banding together to fight this will create a larger voice against the issue. It can even be as simple as wiping anti-semitic slurs off of a subway car.

We can’t rely wholly on the government to bring about changing religious discrimination. What’s important is that we are aware of the issues, aware that people have the right to worship freely, and fight for those that are oppressed.


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If you want to report an incident of discrimination, call the Commission on Human Rights at (718) 722-3131 and visit our “Report Discrimination” page.