By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Leaders from the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities came together for a press conference in Bay Ridge on Tuesday to denounce two shocking acts of religious intolerance against Muslims that took over the weekend.
In one of the incidents, assailants threw eggs at Muslims arriving at the Tayba Islamic Center at 2165 Coney Island Ave. for Ramadan services Friday night. The egg throwers also shouted anti-Islamic slurs, according to Manaf Abdul, a spokesman for the mosque. An egg struck one of the victims, a 72-year-old man, on the left side of his face, Abdul said.
The other incident took place early Sunday morning, as worshipers were praying inside the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, a mosque at 6807 Fifth Ave.
Dr. Husam Rimawi, president of the society, said a car pulled up in front of the mosque at 4:30 a.m. with flashing lights and sat there for a long time. Worshipers inside the mosque at first thought the vehicle was a police car. Many members of the society were unnerved by the incident and believed that the people inside the car were trying to intimidate them, Rimawi said.
“Suddenly a car just came and stood in front of the mosque with red flashing lights,” he said. “People were frightened. We tried to calm everyone down,” Rimawi said at the press conference, which took place at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge.
The Police Department’s Hate Crimes Unit is investigating both troubling incidents.
No arrests have been made, but Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, the organization which called the press conference, said that the assailants in the Bay Ridge incident are believed to be three young men from a neighboring community. They were traced with help from civic leaders, Sarsour said. The attacks “are no reflection on the Jewish community here,” she said, adding that Muslims and Jews have lived peacefully side by side in Brooklyn for many years.
There is also surveillance video of the car, Sarsour said. The video is in the hands of the police, she said.
The Police Department is aware of the suspects, Sarsour said. “The police know who they are and where they live,” she said.
Police officials would say only that it’s an ongoing investigation.
The ugly incidents took place during Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar.
Worshipers spend a great deal of time at all hours of the day and night praying in mosques during Ramadan, Rimawi said. During the holiday, Muslims learn to have patience and tolerance for others, he said. The incidents have done nothing to spoil “the honest and peaceful nature of the Islamic community,” he said.
The incidents also took place amid rising tensions in the Middle East. The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza was escalating when the Brooklyn incidents took place.
“I know that tensions are high, but it has never really affected Bay Ridge,” said state Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southwest Brooklyn).
As a result of the two incidents, police are keeping an eye on the two mosques 24 hours a day, Golden said.
The purpose of the press conference, according to Sarsour, was to condemn the incidents and bring together a coalition of representatives from several areas to show unity in the face of ugliness.
Speaker after speaker pledged to stand together with Arab-Americans to fight religious intolerance. Elected officials, business leaders, and civic activists from several neighborhoods attended the press conference in a show of solidarity with the Muslim community.
“It really breaks my heart,” said Douglas Jablon, vice president of Maimonides Medical Center. Jablon, who is Jewish, said Jews sympathize with Muslims because they too have been victims of religious intolerance. “As Jews, we know what discrimination is,” Jablon said.
The types attacks that took place over the weekend cannot be tolerated, Jablon said. “It has to be stopped here. We have to stop it now,” he said.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said people should be able “to worship freely and safely.” As for the attacks, they will not be tolerated by City Council members, he said. “Not in our districts! Not on our watch!” he said.
Gentile also read a statement from Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in which she stated that she was “appalled by the reports of intimidation and harassment.”
Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) noted that many of the members of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge hail from Sunset Park, the community he represents. “I stand with them today to send a strong message. This is our community and we need to stand together,” he said.
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) called the incidents “heartbreaking” and said it’s particularly painful in view of the fact that Bay Ridge is home to people of many different religions. “We are a melting pot,” she said.
Malliotakis said the attacks came just a few days after local Arab-American leaders started a new initiative called the “Take on Hate Campaign,” designed to fight intolerance.
Habib Joudeh, a member of the Arab-American Association of New York, vowed that the attacks would not destroy the fabric of Bay Ridge. “We’re going to stand firm in this peaceful community of Bay Ridge,” he said.