An Essay Providing Insight into the Historical Political Struggle of Muslim Americans of African Descent in New York, in the Arena of Electoral Politics
As we enter the last day of early voting in this current election cycle, and three days before the June 22nd Primary Election, we of NYC Grassroots Leaders of African Descent reaffirm and reiterate our support and endorsement of Eric Adams for Mayor 2021.
The Muslim political landscape over the past few months has been one of constant flux, with various groups scrambling at the last moment to identify candidates to support, endorsing their chosen, withdrawing and re-endorsing others for different reasons, in an effort to make an impact on the upcoming elections. On the other hand, those of us who came together under the above banner have held fast to our candidate of choice.
We call Allah to witness that our political deliberations in anticipation of this moment of critical importance in terms of the future of the city, began in February 2020. Our perspective was based upon our collective representation of the Black American men, women, young people and children who constitute our congregations, and beyond that those Muslims and others influenced by our opinions.
We are ever mindful of our responsibility to them, even as we acknowledge with gratitude their confidence in us, and reliance upon our judgement, experience, and understanding as community leaders, to offer advice focused on our people’s interest. Further, we are leaders amongst a people of the land, whose shared experience is the litmus test for the liberties claimed by all yet denied many, in what the late Imam W.D. Mohammed called ” The American shared freedom space” (may Allah reward him with Paradise, ameen).
In the USA the plight and struggle of Americans of African descent is the dividing line between rhetoric and truth, abstract and reality. As authentic grassroots leaders born of that particular human experience, we are the product of underserved communities that are often misunderstood, underestimated , and undervalued by others – even amongst our religious brethren.
In February 2020 we began a process of political deliberation rooted in the long history of Muslim Americans of African descent in NYC, of dedication to the universal ideals of Islam. However, we also focused on the particular needs of those whom we serve and represent where we live and work, our children go to school, and the masjids where we call our people to the Islamic faith are located.
The criteria by which we evaluated prospective candidates for NYC Mayor within the context of the city’s overall needs included:
1- Historical political relationship with African-Americans in NYC
2- Historical political Relationship with Muslims as a faith community in NYC
3- Open-ness to inclusion of Muslim African-Americans as a constituency, in the mayoral administration of the winning candidate
4- Citywide plan for development of small businesses
5- City-wide plan for addressing systemic problems related to gentrification, policing, crime and criminal justice
6- Commitment to diversity of access and representation
7- Prospect for mentorship of African-American youth, including Muslims
We examined the political positions of prospective candidates, based upon their actual deeds and record of accomplishments, as well as their vision and projection. We did not look at these issues or concerns as African Americans OR Muslims, but rather as African Americans AND Muslims. Our assessment is that the needs and interest of New York’s Black American community have been largely overlooked by past succeeding mayoral administrations. As Muslims that greater community is our home, and what impacts it affects us.
A recently released report verifies this as a national phenomenon. It asserts that over the past decade Muslim African-Americans in inner city neighborhoods where mosques are at the center of community, have been negatively impacted by factors resulting from systemic racism in housing, health care, public education, land use, and other areas of communal well-being. New York City has been no exception to this.
NYC Muslim Grassroots Leaders of African Descent’s experience particularly accumulated during four mayoral elections over the past 32 years, has enlightened us as to the need for comprehensive actions benefitting not only New York’s ethnically and religiously diverse Muslim community, but also insuring our own people (i.e., Muslim Americans of African descent – the descendants of the Black American formerly enslaved people) will not be excluded from progress in one of the world’s great cities. We do not apologize for this. It is the result of political wisdom replacing political naivete.
Our track record as leaders reflects that of the particular community we serve and represent. Over the decades we have stood in solidarity on the front lines in New York City, espousing justice for every major issue linked to Muslims throughout the world- from Bosnia to Palestine, Iraq to Afghanistan, Darfur to Chechnya, and China to Rohingya.
However, when issues of injustice in need of redress have been rooted in our own communities, we have not found Muslim support reciprocal for causes we suspect are viewed as “Black problems” (like the NYPD killings of Amadou Diallo and Mohamed Bah, the campaign for a Living Wage, etc.). Nonetheless, even as we maintain our own commitment to global justice, we reaffirm our local community’s tradition of enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong at home (i.e., in our neighborhoods and cities) and extending abroad – not the other way around.
“Black Lives Matter” is not just a slogan to us, adapted over the past 1-8 years. It is our reality lived every day relative to the political, social, and economic conditions of our people as Americans of African, Latino (i.e., Spanish-speaking), and other Caribbean descent . It encompasses our thought, lived, shared experience, aspirations beyond mere survival, struggle, political interest, and yes – our vote towards that end.
The past 16 months we watched as the field of mayoral candidates expanded to include those historically disconnected from our community. As authentic grassroots leaders and activists in the mainstream and the streets, we know who has worked in cooperation with the interest of both African-Americans and Muslims over the years, and who has not. We and our constituents are rooted in community and have a reality-based perspective stemming from experience – not just campaign speeches.
After more than a year of observation, contemplation, interviews with candidates and evaluation, we selected Eric Adams as our candidate of choice based upon objective assessment according to the above criteria, and our long-term experience with him. We revisited and considered his speech and deeds as a leader in various sectors of New York city and state public life ( Don’t forget he was a state senator for four terms) , in relation to their diverse African-American and multi-ethnic Muslim communities.
NYC Muslim Grassroots Leaders of African Descent have already addressed our experience with Adams relative to his police background. If elected mayor he will have to draw upon that background as a NYPD officer and leader, and simultaneously as a strong community advocate for police reform with the Grand Council of Guardians and Co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement, to craft a new direction for one of the world’s major police forces – one with a history of opposition on both the rank and file and union levels, to substantive change.
Several weeks ago, during the month of Ramadan of this year, Mr. Adams’ office issued a statement of unequivocal support for the state of Israel, during the recent eruption of violence there. Inasmuch as the same statement made no mention of the impact of that violence on Palestinian men, women, and children, a public outcry erupted from New York City’s vast multi-ethnic community of Muslims, which damaged the image of Adams in their broad faith community. There can be no denial of this.
The NYC Muslim community’s understandable outrage (which we all share) was exacerbated by the sight of Jackbooted Israeli police invading Jerusalem’s Masjidul-Aqsa – which is the 3rd most sacred place of worship in the Islamic faith. They did so during Ramadan – which is the most sacred period of worship for all Muslims. The police acted like storm troopers – beating people during evening worship and throwing gas and stun grenades at them during prayers.
This atrocious and abhorrent use of excessive force by Israeli police officers ignited a visceral response amongst a number of Muslim New Yorkers, who were expecting an empathetic response on behalf of the Palestinians from American elected officials. Many politicians – including Andrew Yang, Eric Adams and others, failed to evoke compassion for anyone but the Israelis in the moment.
Over a half-century ago El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz/Malcolm X (May Allah reward him with the promised reward of martyrs for His sake, ameen) observed “If you’re not careful the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”. Today that applies equally to the media and elected officials.
Unfortunately, that critical omission of empathetic and sympathetic support for the Palestinian people (which progressive African-American leaders have expressed since the late 1960s), so enraged some Muslims that they forgot (even as others perhaps did not know) that prior to Adams’ May 10th statement, he had earned a reputation throughout the city and over the years for consistently standing with our faith community in the face of bigotry, discrimination, and injustice.
He did this not only in public statements and appearances, but in quiet moments of effective advocacy on behalf of Muslim families . We knew it as African-American leaders long before he sought public office . Muslims of other ethnicities in the diverse Borough of Brooklyn – which Adams has served as Borough President for the past eight years, knew it as well – from Bed Stuy to Bayridge to Coney Island.
We on the other hand were not and are not willing to discard years of Mr. Adams’ good work and commitment, in relation to our broad faith community. We do believe that the mayor of a globally significant city like New York is obligated to address matters related to international politics with fairness, justice and equity, according to the standards of international law binding upon all nations – including Israel. Thus, those who would be mayor should be doing the same.
Further we were not, and are not willing , to set aside the particular political interest of those whom we represent in New York’s underserved communities, for the sake of an issue that the world’s leaders – including Muslims – have failed to resolve for 73 years.
We find it problematic when our brethren who migrated to America to assume the status of a voluntary minority (and those influenced by them) , expect for we who are descendants of those brought here against their will and relegated to the status of an involuntary minority, and who still suffer as a people from systemic oppression, to prioritize our political decisions based upon interests resting exclusively in every community except our own – as if all lives matter except ours.
We oppose both the displacement of Palestinian citizens and neighborhood residents by Israeli sponsored government policies, and gentrification in our own New York City neighborhoods by private real estate interests, and public-private partnerships that threaten the existence of traditional enclaves like those in Harlem, Bed-Stuy, and elsewhere.
We oppose brutality and use of excessive and deadly force by police officers at home and abroad. We affirm the validity of human rights and oppose the violation of those rights wherever it may occur. We believe as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”. Yet we also still believe that all politics are local, even in today’s interconnected globalized society . We further recognize that worldly politics are based , as many have said, upon permanent political interests rather than permanent political friends, or enemies.
We chose to endorse Eric Adams for NYC mayor because we believed him to be the best candidate for the job . We still do and have confidence that if elected he will grow in his capacity to speak and act in representation of all New Yorkers, and not just some of us. He will have to in a city that contains the largest population of Catholics in America, a large and diverse population of Protestants, the largest number of Jews outside and perhaps inside of the state of Israel, one of the largest populations of Muslims of various ethnicities in the nation, and a citizenry one-quarter of whom declare no faith affiliation at all. We believe he’s up to the task, and time will tell. Allah knows best.
- Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, Chairman
- Imam Musa Abdul-Ali
- Imam Abdul Azeez
- Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil
- Imam Talibudeen Ashanti
- Imam Abdul-Azim Khan
- Brother Ed Powell (for Imam Adib Rashid)
- Imam Yusuf Ramadan
- Imam Siraj Wahhaj