Caribbean-American Muslims assert identity amidst hostile climate

Polls across the country show rising public fears of terrorist assaults, following the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. A new Gallup survey says one in six Americans identify terrorism as the most important U.S. problem. But for Guyanese-American FIU student Brenda Ali, international terror attacks can create a personal sense of dread for her right here in South Florida.

“Every time there is a terrorist attack involving radicalized Islamic groups or individuals, innocent Muslims are targeted,” says Ali. Recent days have not done much to alleviate her fears of reprisal against practicing Muslims and general sense of unease. “For weeks I’ve been getting looks at stores and other places cause of my hijab. But I won’t be intimidated.”

Her anxieties have come to fruition with recent hostilities against the community, from profanities sprayed on the entrance wall of the Nur-Ul-Islam Academy in Cooper City, where many practicing Muslims from Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica attend, to a slew of threatening emails sent to the Islamic Center of Greater Miami in Miami Gardens.

And among the Caribbean-American community, there is also an increasing sense of fear, with a growing number of Caribbean-born residents, hitherto accustomed to living among Muslim neighbors in the Caribbean, now openly supporting Republican candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

It’s a policy that seems like a logical defense response in uncertain times, says Jamaican Davie resident Maxine. “I simple have no idea who is radicalized and who is not,” said Maxine. “Wrong or right I have become skeptical of Muslims.”

But Brenda says it’s completely unreasonable to sweep the over 120,000 residents of the Islamic faith residing in South Florida into such an extreme category.

“I am not a radical terrorist like the members of DAISH [ISIS who are using the Islamic religion as a curtain behind which they are waging terror,” says Ali. “Every religion has their fanatics and that’s what DAISH is. They do not represent the Islamic/Muslim community.”

For Trinidadian parent Rasheed Mohammad, whose children attend the Nur-Ul-Islam Academy that was defaced with slurs, says that attitude, particularly among Caribbean-Americans, stems from a fundamental miseducation about the Islamic faith.

“Unfortunately there is much misunderstanding about Muslims and Islamic religion,” said Mohammad. “Fear can be a powerful weapon against organized religion. This is what the radicals are perpetuating, but the faith of true Muslims is strong and will prevail in face of adversity.”

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