By Linda Sarsour
What do we have to do with Occupy Wall Street? What’s so Islamic about Occupy Wall Street? Are we just going to show up or were we actually invited to be there? These were just some of the posts on the facebook event’s page for the Friday Prayer at Occupy Wall Street last week. I was shocked that there was so much doubt, uncertainty and lack of clarity as to what was the role of Muslim New Yorkers in Occupy Wall Street.
First off, Muslims have been part of and many have supported OWS since day one. Second of all, we were invited to have Friday prayer at OWS and graciously accepted that invitation. Friday prayer is the most sacred part of our lives to share with our fellow Americans. Muslims all over the world congregate in mosques to pray together, shoulder to shoulder, rich and poor, educated and non-educated to bring themselves closer to God. Third of all, it is our obligation as Muslims to stand up against injustice and to defend those who are defenseless.
This was a public visible opportunity to show OWS, fellow Americans, Wall Street, and our government that Muslim Americans are also part of the 99%. We are concerned with the infringement on our civil liberties and the lack of opportunities available to our community. As someone who runs a non profit organization that serves low income and immigrant Arabs in NYC, I see firsthand the issues affecting our communities. High rates of unemployment, threats of eviction, difficulties accessing public benefits and healthcare, are compounded by the discrimination and hostility a minority of New Yorkers face, that also includes targeting and spying by the New York Police Department.
If you haven’t noticed, its damn hard being an Arab let alone an Arab and a Muslim in New York. We are not exactly the most loved and wanted but what we have experienced at OWS is quite the contrary. Protesters of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, educational levels and ages have welcomed us with open arms. We have never been questioned about our presence but more about how else we can be involved. After the Friday prayer last week, many random folks came up to me and simply thanked me for being there. That’s it. I was thanked for being present. The presence of those who came to pray was recognized, acknowledged and appreciated. It was an inspirational and motivational experience for me and the many Muslims who came out. A highlight of the day was while doing our Mic Check, a Christian woman came up to the step I was standing on and spoke out to the crowd. She introduced herself as a Christian and apologized to Muslims for ever stereotyping them, or treating them differently. She voiced to the crowd that we are all brothers and sisters and that we should stay committed to treating each other this way. It brought tears to my eyes. When she finished, she turned and embraced me. It was genuine and reflected the true sentiment of OWS. Inclusivity.
Was I inspired by the Arab Spring to be there? Yes, but I would caution us from comparing OWS to the Arab Spring. We as Americans do not go to OWS with the risk of being shot by a sniper or run over by a military tank. While we may want the same things, the nature of our environment is completely different and it wouldn’t be fair to the martyrs of the Arab Spring if we said OWS is our version of the Arab Spring. It’s not the same. Can we be inspired by the brave men and women of the Arab world? Absolutely, they inspire me everyday.