CNY Muslim Groups Reflect on Local Support in Face of Supreme Court Travel Ban Ruling

Jul 2, 2018

Islamic Society of Central New York is one of more than 20 mosques, community centers and groups for local Muslims.
Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News

Many Central New Yorkers were directly affected by the Supreme Court ruling on the travel ban.  Recent refugees and immigrants, as well as local residents, were impacted emotionally and in concrete ways if they were hoping to be reunited with family members from other countries.  Local Islamic groups had a response some might find surprising.

In response to last week’s Supreme Court decision on the travel ban, Central New York Islamic Groups had a different reaction than just coming out in opposition.  And that came from the communities’ response to them.

“We had people from the community, volunteer lawyers and law enforcement groups from 4 or 5 different agencies, approach us in a good way, saying that we support you and that’s not necessarily our stance,: said Yusuf Soule.  "So we felt a lot of love right from the beginning.” 

Yusuf Soule of the Islamic Council of Greater Syracuse is an American Muslim who works at the Northside Learning center and the Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary at the former Holy Trinity Church.  He finds the local Muslim community not only supported, but thriving.

The former Holy Trinity church was turned into the Masjid Isa Ibn Maraym, or Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary, on Syracuse's North Side where there are a concentration of resettled refugees from Muslim-majority countries.

“It’s as diverse as the population of the world.  Muslims from probably 50 countries in Syracuse, at least 5 mosques, different organizations within the hospitals, community centers, Muslim student associations at a number of the high schools, certainly both colleges.” 

The Supreme Court of the United States Decision upheld President Trump's travel ban order after it was challenged in Hawaii.  It bans travel by anyone from Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, Somalia, Syria, Lybia and Yemen, adding restrictions on non-Muslim majority North Korea and Venezuela.  The New York Times adds waiver requests are possible, though only about 2% of such waivers get approved.

Make no mistake, Soule and Imam Muhammad El Fiki of the Islamic Society of Central New York say the impact of the travel ban will have dire effects on Muslims here in the Syracuse area. 

“People thinking that they are, as Muslims, being labeled in a way and for kids, I believe it is too much, especially for kids going to a public school, maybe one or two in a class, they might be bullied based on that.  Most of these refugees or newcomers, they have been traumatized by a lot.  They have family members that they would love to join one day that they will never join,” said El Fiki."

“Some of the countries of origin that are still in the ban, particularly Somalia and Syria and Yemen, we have a large population of those folks on the North Side.," added Soule.  "And it really kind of destroyed hopes and dreams.”

Nevertheless Soule and Imam El Fiki recount outpouring of support – at community events, through donations to refugees families, and in the successes of some who’ve started businesses and sent children to college.  Maybe just as important, Soule adds, is support from local leaders. 

“There’s certainly the other side of it.  But those people, they’re kind of quiet about anything they might have in their heart or any type of bigotry or segregation or whatever.  That’s not out there publicly.  What’s out there publicly is the face of somebody like Mayor Walsh who’s boldly saying, ‘I support the diversity.’”

Still Imam El Fiki says the travel ban shakes his pride in America.

For the first time in our history, I guess, we’re not even saying we’re going to have tighter measurements or more control; we’re not there anymore for (those) who need help.  And it makes me, a little feeling of disgrace, when I see countries much, much less fortunate than America, still opening their gates wide.” 

Next month the Islamic Society of C-N-Y holds a workshop on rights at home and at work, as well as rights for Muslim students and Muslim travelers.