Just before midnight, Ravi wrote to Tam: “FUCK MY LIFE / He’s gay.” He had found Keybowvio’s name on Justusboys, a gay-pornography site that also has discussion areas. Ravi sent Tam a link to a page that contained sex-tinged ads but was otherwise mundane. It was a conversation, from 2006, prompted by Keybowvio’s question about a problem with his computer’s hard drive. Keybowvio noted that his electronic folders were fastidiously organized; perhaps jokingly, he added, “i have ocd.”
In the next few minutes, Ravi wrote “wtf”—“what the fuck”—seven times. He posted a link to the Justusboys page on his Twitter account: “Found out my roommate is gay.”
But when Tam asked “why do gaypornsites even have forums,” Ravi laughed—“hahaha”—and wrote, “it’s just a gay forum.” That sounds like at least a stab at worldliness, and Ravi seems to have found it easy to drop the subject of Keybowvio’s apparent homosexuality. Two minutes after the Justusboys discovery, Ravi was making a new observation, perhaps based on Keybowvio’s worry about fixing his computer. “He’s poor,” Ravi wrote, adding a frowning emoticon. He then found Zazzle, a print-on-demand site where Keybowvio, probably years earlier, had created a T-shirt that read, “If Opposites Attract Why Isn’t Anyone Attracted to Me?” Another said, “I Love My Mommy … ” and, on the back, “Do You?” Ravi wrote, “I feel bad for him.”
A powerful piece on the suicide of Tyler Clementi. It briefly touches upon class, what constitutes bullying, homosexuality, and the engendering of homophobia via “harmless” discourse on the Internet. The piece also delves into the public/private nature of the Internet, the public/private nature of ourselves and it makes you think (a lot) about how one identity may influence the other. It’s a long read and not for those with a weak constitution. Grab a tissue.
“What’s called honour killing is not part of Islamic teaching or tradition, and in fact there is no honour in this killing at all. It has nothing to do with religion and it has no backup either from the texts of the Qur’an or from the behaviour, sayings or deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, who is the model for Muslims.There have been so many misconceptions about “honour-killings” that it is imperative that imams set the record straight. Look to the examples of the Prophet Muhammad, who never hit or abused his wives in any form. Statistics show that one in three women are subjected to some form of physical, mental or emotional abuse, domestic violence has no religious boundaries. Muslims have a special duty to refrain from abusing their wives because Muhammad, whose examples are supposed to guide them, not only refrained from the behaviour, but forbade it. Muslims have a responsibility to treat their wives with dignity, kindness and “equity.” Remember one of the most famous sayings on the subject from the Prophet: “The best of you are those who are best to their wives.” The major problems in dealing with many issues, including domestic abuse, is that people often pull Qur’anic verses out of context and act on them. Those who understand the religion know that texts should be read in conjunction with others, and with the teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad to get a proper understanding of the scripture. One cannot be a good Muslim and still mistreat his wife. People often try to find faults in their wives or partners, without looking in the mirror first.“Look for your own faults before you see faults in others,”
“The pious Muslim is the one who will never oppress his wife.””—Honour killings have no place in Islam: Samy Metwally. (Ottawa Imam)
“Why is American blood so precious while the Iraqi blood is so cheap?”—HANAA MOHAMMED, an Iraqi, reacting to the plea bargain of U.S. Marine Frank G. Wuterich, who will serve no jail time in connection with the 2005 killings in Haditha.
لا تكره أحداً مهما أخطأ في حقك
عش في بساطة مهما علا شأنك
توقع خيراً مهما كثر البلاء
أعط كثيراً ولو حُرِمْت
صِلْ مَنْ قطعك وأعْفُ عَمّنْ ظلمك
ولا تقطع دعاءك لعزيز لديك
Hate no one, no matter how much they’ve wronged you,
Live humbly, no matter how wealthy you become,
Think positively, no matter how hard life is,
Give much, even if you’ve been given little,
Keep in touch with the ones who have forgotten you,
and forgive who has wronged you,
And do not stop praying for the best for those you love.
Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.
The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.
Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.
“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”
Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.
“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”
The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.
But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.
Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.
“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”
At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.
When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.
“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community.
For the first six months, congregants held Friday night Sabbath services inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began joining the congregation, Drammeh offered them a bigger room where they could set up a makeshift shul. (When it’s not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom.) Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is displayed prominently on a nearby wall. During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching on the heater.
At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.
Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester, who added that she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood: “We were not brought up to hate.”
Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance more broadly, and for turning the school—which was itself founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001—into a model of sorts for religious tolerance in New York.
“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teachings are the same.”
His latest project involves introducing fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the program, now in its sixth year, include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale. At the end of the program, students organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. The principal of the Islamic school, who is also Sheik Drammeh’s wife, said that even after the program ended, the participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.
“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”
While the Jewish congregants are thankful for their new home, they hope that one day they can rebuild their own synagogue. That day may be far off: Even now that they have space to worship, they still struggle to operate. They don’t have proper heating inside, and the portable working heater could not reach the separate area where the elderly women are seated, forcing them to wear their jackets during the entire service. Congregants are appealing for financial support from the Jewish community and other congregations.
But Leon Bleckman and others say they now also have loftier goals, including reviving the Jewish presence in the neighborhood and reaffirming the positive relationship with their Muslim friends. “We are able to co-exist together side by side in the same building,” said Assistant Rabbi Avi Friedman, 42. “That’s sort of like a taste of the future world to come—the messianic future where all people live in peace.”
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”—Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in his final sermon: 1400 years ago.
“They’ve located the facility in a little town called Qom. Qom happens to be a rather significant city in Iran. … The Shi’ites have one of their holiest sites … in Qom, because there’s a well there called the Jamkaran well, where — they call it the Mahdi — the equivalent of, in some respects, a Jesus figure, who is gonna come back at the end of times and lead Shi’a Islam in the ruling of the world in peace and justice. That’s what their end-of-times scenario is. Well, he comes back at a time of great chaos. And so there are many who speculate that there are folks over in Iran who wouldn’t mind creating a time of great chaos, for religious reasons. And the fact that they built this nuclear program in this city, next to where this man is supposed to return, leads one to think that there may be more to it, since they could pick any other place in the state, in the country, to do so, that there may be other reasons than to develop domestic nuclear power.”—