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Saturday, 13 October, 2001, 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK
New York Muslims pray for justice
Mullah in New York mosque
Calls for jihad have gone unheeded here
From BBC Online's Joseph Winter in New York

New York's Muslims gathered in their thousands for the first Friday prayers since the United States began bombing targets in Afghanistan.

The city as a whole is an ethnic mosaic, and worshippers at the imposing Kuwaiti-funded Islamic Cultural Centre in Manhattan arrived from countries as far apart as Senegal, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Mosque in Manhattan
The mosque was financed by Kuwaitis
Yet they held surprisingly consistent views - condemning both the 11 September attacks and the US retaliation.

The fact that the bombings had been halted out of respect for the Muslim holy day made little difference.


"What they complained about, that he [Osama Bin Laden] killed a lot of innocent people, they're doing the same thing now in Afghanistan," Egyptian-born Abraham Ramsey told BBC News Online.

"Under US law, you're innocent until you're proven guilty. Where's the proof?" he asked.

Saba, a physician from New York, agreed that justice should be sought through the legal system, not the armed forces.

"Terrorism is not about war, it's a crime against humanity. This should be done through the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, like they did with [former Yugoslav leader Slobodan] Milosevic," she said.

Like other Muslim Americans, Saba also spoke of a new, anti-Muslim backlash and was too afraid to give her family name.

Holy war

Following the air strikes in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network called for Muslims around the world to rise up in a jihad or holy war against the US.

Despite their opposition to the US action, this has apparently gone unheeded by New York's Muslims and there were no demonstrations against the US Government at the Islamic centre.

We used to be friends with the Taleban, now we say they have to go and we're making friends with anyone who's against them

New York Muslim
"I don't think Osama Bin Laden is qualified to call for a jihad," said Saeed Uddin Qureshi, the centre's assistant Imam, originally from Pakistan.

"For a jihad, there must be a just cause. To hate America is not a just cause," he said.

He also told BBC News Online that not a single member of his congregation had asked him about how Muslim Americans should react.

"Nobody is taking that call seriously."

Root causes

While people generally saw the solution to be the capture and public trial of Bin Laden and whoever else the US believes is responsible for the attacks, Yousef from Morocco said the root causes should also be addressed.

He said that instead of launching missiles on Afghanistan, the US should be helping to spread democracy throughout the Middle East, so that governments actually represent the feelings of their people.

Yousef was also concerned that US foreign policy-makers were not thinking about the long-term.

"We used to be friends with the Taleban, now we say they have to go and we're making friends with anyone who's against them," he said.

Muslims kneeling at prayer
New York's Muslims come from many countries
Some pointed to US support for Israel as being one of the reasons - but not justifications - for the 11 September attacks and complained of double standards.

"Nothing happened to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon when Palestinian refugees were massacred," said one women through a black veil which only revealed her eyes.


Muslim New Yorkers are currently struggling to deal with a bewildering array of emotions - outrage at the 11 September attacks, disappointment and anger, too, at the US retaliation and a sense of betrayal that they are no longer being made to feel at ease in the city they call home.

In a thick New York drawl flavoured with more than a hint of his Arabic roots - Abdelaziz who came from Egypt 22 years ago - said: " A lot of people down there in Afghanistan, innocent people, they didn't do nothing but they been killed."

He was concerned that people were forgetting that many of those who died in the World Trade Centre were also Muslims and he aptly caught the mood in the mosque: "God bless Egypt, God bless Islam, God bless America - if they do the right thing."

See also:

12 Oct 01 | Americas
Anthrax confirmed in New York
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