Thousands rallied in Brooklyn on Thursday to denounce President Trump’s executive order on immigration, drawing perhaps the largest public U.S. protest by Muslims in recent history. They gathered for prayer as speakers condemned Trump’s order, which temporarily bans citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the country.
“This protest is the first one in a long time that I can recall when so many Muslims gathered to protest something,” said Hussein Rashid, founder of islamicate, a consultancy focusing on religious literacy.
The protest took place after hundreds of Yemeni-owned stores around New York City closed to protest the order. Many visa holders from Yemen, one of the countries cited in Trump’s order, found themselves unable to return to the United States if they were overseas at the time the order was issued.
Most of the stores are by the Barclay’s Center, a major entertainment hub in the city where the Brooklyn Nets play.
“Like many immigrant communities, this Yemeni group works the jobs we need to keep the city going, but that we often neglect when we think of how a city works,” Rashid said. “It’s the small shops and taxi drivers; the salon owners and the delivery people that are part of cities’ life blood.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted his support for the owners of bodegas, small grocery stores considered institutions in the city, shutting down their stores from noon to 8 p.m.
American Muslims have taken part in protests about the war in Iraq and protests against detention practices after 9/11, but this protest is one of the largest in recent memory.
New York has a significant number of Syrian and Yemeni immigrants, though Yemeni-Americans are very connected to Yemen and will go back for months at a time, according to Moustafa Bayoumi, an English professor at Brooklyn College who is familiar with the community.
“Non-Arab and non-Muslim New Yorkers will encounter these store owners because they get their coffee or their snack there so there’s a street level familiarity them,” Bayoumi said.
It was striking, Bayoumi said, to hear one of the politicians from the podium say “Allahu Akbar,” which means “God is great” in Arabic.
“That would’ve been unheard of and would have been seen as super sinister prior to this moment,” he said. “I think there’s a greater degree of understanding the predicament of American Muslims because it seems like a state of emergency we’re now living in.”
Yemen has been shaken up by political instability and a civil war in recent years. According to the United Nations, the Yemeni conflict has killed at least 10,000 people and displaced more than 3 million.