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Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories

Call Number



January 24, 2018 - January 22, 2019, inclusive


Ali, Zaheer
Kitto, Svetlana


8.32 Gigabytes in 149 files; Running time of available interviews: 103 hours, 19 minutes, and 27 seconds.

Language of Materials

English .


This collection includes oral histories conducted and arranged by Brooklyn Historical Society in 2018. The interviews reflect varying approaches to religious observance among Muslim Brooklynites in relation to a wide range of communities and traditions within Islam, including Sunni, Shi'i, Sufi, Nation of Islam, W. D. Mohammed community, Five Percent, Dar ul Islam, and Ansaarullah. Collectively, there is particular focus on cultural and religious customs, practices, and gender roles within these communities; education and the arts; immigration from South Asia and the Middle East; the Nation of Islam; Islamophobia in the wake of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as well as after the 2016 presidential election; political activism and engagement; and community relations with law enforcement and government officials.

Biographical / Historical

In 1907, a community of Lipka Tatar immigrants from Eastern Europe founded the American Mohammedan Society in Brooklyn. Over the next few decades, the borough's first mosques were established, including both the American Mohammedan Society's Brooklyn Moslem Mosque in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and the Islamic Mission of America on State Street (also known as Dawood Mosque) in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. By the second half of the twentieth century, policy changes and political volatility on the national and global stages greatly expanded the presence of Muslims in Brooklyn through large waves of both spiritual and physical migrations.

The Nation of Islam's resurgence among African Americans throughout the 1950s and 1960s was particularly strong in New York, whose Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan was home to one of the Nation of Islam's largest temples. By 1963, the Nation of Islam's New York Minister Malcolm X had opened mosques elsewhere in the city, including Mosque No. 7C (later known as Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah) in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The community underwent significant reforms following the transfer of leadership from Elijah Muhammad upon his death in 1975 to his son Warith Deen Mohammed, including a shift toward Sunni Islam tenets. These changes ultimately led to local and national rifts within the Nation of Islam, and were a catalyst for the establishment of Masjid At-Taqwa in 1981, also located in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Brooklyn's Muslim immigrant communities also experienced significant growth during that time. The American Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished quotas that favored primarily Christian countries in Europe, broadening the geographic and religious diversity among immigrants to the United States. Successive waves of immigration included greater proportions of emigrants from primarily Muslim countries in Africa and Asia, many of whom settled in Brooklyn. In the following decades, many communities blossomed, including (but not limited to) Muslim Pakistani communities in the Brighton Beach and Flatbush neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the Muslim Bangladeshi communities in the Kensington and East New York neighborhoods of Brooklyn, and interfaith Arab communities in the Midwood and Bay Ridge neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

Islamophobia became more pronounced after the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Harassment, detentions, and deportations rose, and in the years following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the New York Police Department pursued a policy of religiously-motivated surveillance of Muslim communities throughout the city. After the surveillance was revealed, the Raza v. City of New York lawsuit was filed in June 2013 on behalf of some of the Brooklyn-based individuals and institutions whose religious or social missions had been harmed by policy. The courts ultimately found in the plaintiffs' favors, requiring the city to pay damages and make significant changes to their policies surrounding surveillance of religious groups going forward.

Attacks on Muslim communities also escalated when 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed a ban on all Muslim people entering the country. After he took office, his administration crafted Executive Order 13769, and despite a series of court challenges, including the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii allowed implementation of most of the ban. During this period, hate crimes against Muslim Americans also increased across the United States, including in Brooklyn.

The social and institutional hostility directed at many Muslim Americans throughout that period, especially during the early part of the twenty-first century, sowed significant anxiety and suspicion among many in Muslim communities. Consequent fears for their safety and security led some Muslim Americans to withdraw from public life. For others, it contributed to a surge in activism, political engagement, charitable work, advocacy, and involvement in cultural institutions. Many Muslim Brooklynites in particular were leading voices in these efforts, including Linda Sarsour's co-chairing the nationwide Women's March on Washington in 2017 for equality and Debbie Almontaser's leadership in organizing the Yemeni Bodega Strike at Brooklyn Borough Hall in 2017.


This collection was organized chronologically by interview date.

Scope and Contents

The Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories include interviews with narrators with roots in a number of Muslim communities in Brooklyn. These narrators reflect the diversity that is characteristic both of Brooklyn's population in general and of Muslim Brooklynites in particular: they include immigrants and their immediate descendents from different regions across all five continents as well as African Americans; represent a wide variety of approaches to their faith within several different traditions of Islam, including Sunni, Shi'i, Sufi, Nation of Islam, W. D. Mohammed community, Five Percent, Dar ul Islam, and Ansaarullah; and span in age from 24 to 74.

These narrators discuss their overall experiences in neighborhoods across Brooklyn as well as their involvement in nearly a dozen of the city's religious institutions from the mid-1960s until 2018. Collectively, many of them also emphasize their personal relationships with their Muslim faith, including the degree and approach of their observance over time; the teachings and philosophies that speak most strongly to them; the intersection between religion and cultural traditions; cultural norms and education specific to their community's tradition; and building relationships with people of other faiths. There is also significant emphasis on their encounters with Islamophobia, particularly following the September 11 Terrorist Attacks in 2001 and the United States' 2016 presidential election, as well as the social and political activism it inspired from several narrators in the collection as well as from many Muslim Americans across the country.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection can be accessed onsite at Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online at the Oral History Portal.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of these oral histories for purposes other than private study, scholarship, or research requires the permission of both the Center for Brooklyn History and the narrator. For assistance, please contact CBH at

Preferred Citation

[Narrator Last Name, Narrator First Name, Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer First Name Last Name, [Month DD, YYYY], Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, [Object ID]; Center for Brooklyn History, Brooklyn Public Library.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These oral histories were conducted by staff or consultants at the Brooklyn Historical Society in 2018.

Physical Facet

All recordings and transcripts were born-digital.

Collection processed by

Elena Locascio

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 11:18:22 +0000.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories were processed by Elena Locascio, Oral History Project Archivist, in 2018. Interviews were processed to the item level. Due to privacy concerns, the specific birthdates of all narrators or other named individuals were redacted from the digitized transcripts and audio recordings. Interviews were cataloged using Library of Congress subject headings. When Library of Congress subject headings were misaligned with narrators' self-identification, subject headings were substituted with broader terms where available.


Brooklyn Historical Society
Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201