The history of the Muslim Center of New York goes back to 1975, when it began in a small apartment to satisfy the needs of the growing Muslim community in Flushing. In 1997, the Center purchased neighboring plots and built an official mosque.
Most of the members of the Muslim Center do not live nearby; many have moved out to Long Island. The Center’s body of members is composed of a variety of ethnicities. According to the Center Director, most of the congregants have been living in America for three generations. A majority occupy the middle and lower strata of society, holding jobs such as car drivers or shop owners. The members who live in Long Island generally have a higher social status and some have professional careers. Most of the congregants are from the South continent, including India and Pakistan, and there is a minority of Europeans as well. The Mosque mostly caters to a Sunni population, as the majority of Muslims living in New York are Sunnis.
Since the congregants of the Muslim Center come from so many different countries of origin and speak their own unique dialects, the mosque accommodates its members by carrying on its services in English, which is the second language of most, if not all of them. For example, Muslims of Indian, Pakistan, and Afghanistan descent speak Urdu and Arabic, but to avoid problems English is used as the primary language in the Muslim Center. Many of the teenagers in the community even regard English as their primary language.
Some nearby mosques also use English as the primary language in which the services are delivered, but others use Arabic, Pesdu, or Urdu. There are a number of mosques in Flushing, and congregants of the Muslim Center may choose to go to other mosques if they wish. In fact, congregants of the Muslim Center are occasionally invited to pray at other mosques. These mosques do not plan events as a joint effort, but they will notify each other about the specific upcoming events for their own mosque. The relationship between the various Mosques is friendly, yet there is a measure of competition among them for congregants and students.
In addition to providing a place for the Muslims in the community to convene for prayer services, the Muslim Center of New York caters to the community’s needs with an elementary school on the bottom floor of the building that serves pre-K to eighth grade children. As parents drop off and pick up their children from this school, they forge a relationship with the Muslim Center. On Sunday, the Muslim Center has classes for students to learn from the Quran, so there is a constant stream of people entering and leaving the Center throughout the week. The Center also involves itself in marital issues, such as consultations and wedding ceremonies. However, they do not handle divorces, because there is no official divorce ritual or ceremony in Islam. Instead, when a woman brings up the initial thought of getting a divorce or verbalizes that she wants a divorce, according to Islam law, the divorce is complete and legitimate.
At this point in 2011, the Muslim Center has a cordial relationship with the surrounding community of Flushing, though this was not always the case. In particular after September 11, people of the community looked upon Muslims with doubt, fear, and rage. The Center has even experienced some hate crimes, such as politically charged racial slurs graffittied onto the walls of their building. In such cases, police involvement was a necessity, and over the years the Mosque has developed good relations with the police.
Since 9/11, there has always been an inner turmoil clouding the perceived identity of Muslims, especially Muslim youth. Often, the youth become confused because they suffer from prejudice or racist comments from other children who view them as different, or even as terrorists. For instance, after 9/11, Muslim children were usually excluded from activities in local playgrounds because of the stigma surrounding Muslims that developed. Yet these are just Muslim children who are just as American as other non-Muslim children. This is the quandary that Muslims have to grapple with on a daily basis as they interact with their neighbors and classmates. The Muslim Center of New York deals with this by having certain days of “open mosque” when they designate a day or a few days for people of any religious affiliation to enter the mosque and learn more about Islam. The hope is that once people become more educated regarding Islam and more acquainted with Muslims, their mistrust and prejudice will be dispelled.