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“Rana Abdel-Hamid: the Egyptian-American activist who fought for the call to prayer in New York”

Al-Aram Hebdo : You have obtained a court verdict authorizing the call to prayer through the loudspeakers in New York. How did it go ?

Rana Abdel-Hamid: I grew up in the city of Astoria in the United States, I was young when the events of September 11 occurred. After the collapse of the twin towers in Manhattan, Muslims were intimidated and the image of Islam and Muslims was subject to a lot of prejudice. The call to prayer in mosques through loudspeakers has been banned. I myself have been bullied for being veiled. A person addressed racist remarks to me and tried to remove my veil. Muslims and Egyptians were constantly spied on in cafes, restaurants and mosques which made us feel like we were being watched by speed cameras. Members of the Muslim community wanted the call to prayer through the loudspeakers reinstated. The church bells were ringing, so why couldn’t the call to prayer go out? It prompted me as an activist and lawyer, a graduate of Harvard University, the most prestigious in the United States, to file a lawsuit asking for the restoration of the call to prayer and I obtained a verdict which recognizes the right of the Muslim community to make the call to prayer in the mosques of Astoria and in all the mosques of the United States. For me, it was a success and a source of great pride. I’m a simple Muslim girl from New York and got three permissions for the call to prayer from mosques in Astoria where I grew up. This one will be heard again in the streets of the city.

— What do you think are the most important issues facing the Arab-Muslim community in American society?

— In my opinion, the main problem of the Arab-Muslim community is the lack of political representation. No one is defending the rights of this community in Congress and no one is raising the issues it faces, including racism and Islamophobia. With the help of the associations we have founded, we are trying to change the negative image of the Muslim community in the United States. We are trying to obtain funding from the US government to strengthen the activities of these associations.

— You have founded three associations for the defense of women’s rights, including the foundation Malika and the Women’s Empowerment Initiative. What prompted you to found these associations?

— As I said, when I was 16, I was attacked on the public highway by an individual who beat me and tried to take off my headscarf. That’s why I started an initiative to teach young American girls of Muslim background how to defend themselves. I got myself the black belt in karate and I can defend myself very well. Many young American girls of Arab or Muslim descent face racism and intimidation because of their headscarves and the fact that they are of Arab-Muslim descent. We created the organization Malika for the rights of Muslim women to teach them to defend themselves and their political rights in the United States. We have organized demonstrations against decisions that challenge the rights of minorities in New York, their customs and their traditions. The association Malika launched a joint program with the Museum of Arts here to introduce the Arab immigrant woman to American society, her history, her life, her customs and her traditions.

“You’re an Egyptian-American activist and former congressional candidate, and that makes you an icon. Can you tell us about your background?

‘I come from Alexandria. I am 29 years old. I have a master’s degree in political science from Harvard University. My family immigrated to the United States 30 years ago and I grew up in Astoria, New York, which is a famous city well known for its Egyptian and Arab community. It is inhabited by a large majority of Egyptians, Moroccans and Algerians. After the events of September 11, I became a social political activist and I try to help the Muslim community to face the racism and the intimidation that they are subjected to. Through an organization I started, I have helped Muslim girls and women in New York and the United States learn about their rights and stand up for themselves. My membership in the Muslim Organization of New York helped me get permission to make the call to prayer over loudspeakers in Astoria.

— You are the first woman of Egyptian descent and the third Muslim to stand for election to the United States Congress. What motivated this decision?

— As I have already told you, the main problem of the Arab-Muslim community in the United States is the absence of political representation. My goal was to help the Egyptian Muslim community. We have worked on issues faced by Muslim workers and immigrants, including health insurance, housing and food. The organization I belong to nominated me to contest the elections. We started the campaign and raised over a million dollars from different people all over America. We also managed to secure the support of 30 politicians and organisations. They participated in my election campaign which focused on the rights of workers, immigrants and minorities in New York. Thank goodness it was a strong campaign, but unfortunately the electoral map changed and I found myself in a different constituency. It was a shock for me and for the Muslim and Egyptian community because we thought I had a great chance of winning.

— What does Rana Abdel-Hamid dream of as an American of Egyptian origin?

— I hope that we can unite the second and third generation Egyptian community of New York to form a real Egyptian lobby that is active and influential behind the scenes of the United States Administration and the New York State Congress, and I wish that this lobby can grow at the level of the whole of the United States. I hope that the Muslim community here in New York will be stronger, and especially that it will be represented in the American Congress. We want a Muslim generation that loves others and respects differences. My family taught me that I should be proud to be Egyptian, Muslim and Arab. I also wish to serve my country and my homeland, Egypt, with what I have acquired through my studies at Harvard University. Finally, I would like to see Egyptian women gain more rights and be more active in Egyptian society.

Lien court:

2023-05-19 06:07:17

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