Muslims Pray at JFK Airport to Protest Ban

As lawyers continue to fight for arriving immigrants at JFK, Muslims from all walks of life quietly gathered at the airport in a show of unity for Friday prayers.

Katie Zavadski

A week after Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration caused confusion and heartache at airports around the country, John F. Kennedy Airport remains the epicenter of New York’s resistance to what many call the “Muslim ban.”

Hundreds of people gathered outside Terminal 4 on Friday afternoon for jummah, the weekly communal prayer in Islam. It was the second public, outdoor Muslim prayer in as many days, part of a campaign to show unity and combat misconceptions.

“As an immigrant and a Muslim, I had to be here,” Ali Mohammed told The Daily Beast.

He’d heard about the jummah prayer on TV, radio, and through Facebook. The 46-year-old works in Manhattan and usually goes to a mosque in midtown on Fridays. But today, he took a half-day to show his opposition to the executive order by coming out to JFK.

“I think security and safety matter to American Muslims, too,” Mohammed said. “But what we don’t want is discrimination.”

Friday’s show of unity was powerful in that it was muted. Organized by the New York Immigration Coalition and the Islamic Leadership Council, it drew more than 100 worshippers for a short program, khutbah or sermon, and prayer.

They brought prayer rugs, signs, a tarp—even a gay pride flag—to show the diversity and strength of the Muslim community. And they gathered outside an airport, a complicated space to be visibly Muslim in recent years and weeks. As they prayed, citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries affected by Trump’s travel restrictions were still being pulled aside for secondary screening as they waited to get waivers from Customs and Border Patrol.

The afternoon’s khutbah talked about America as the promise of an ideal community, but a promise that everyone must keep fighting for.

“Now is your chance, dear immigrant brothers and sisters, to become real Americans,” Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid told the crowd. “What makes you a real American is not your passport. It’s not your waving of the flag.

“It’s your willingness to stand for justice and confront those in power who want to make America restricted,” he said. “Because that’s how we do it in America.”

“If we don’t stand for the rights of those people, tomorrow it’s going to affect us as American citizens,” said Ahmed Hussein, 49, who immigrated to the U.S. from Egypt nearly 20 years ago and came all the way from Staten Island to attend. “The best thing I like about America is diversity, especially here in New York.”

Mohamed A. Amin arrived at the jummah prayer holding an LGBT pride flag and a Guyanese flag in his hands.

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“What brought me out here is our LGBT community, our Muslim community, and standing up for our rights,” he told The Daily Beast.

Inside the Terminal 4 arrivals area, meanwhile, volunteer lawyers and translators continued to staff the 24-hour legal aid center that popped up in the wake of the order. They greeted people exiting arriving flights with signs offering legal advice in English, Urdu, and Arabic.

On the first night, the volunteer lawyers occupied the outdoor seating area of the Central Diner in Terminal 4, and moved outside that area in coming days. By Friday, they’d set up a temporary wall to guard off their space from casual diners.

Now, the effort is less hectic than it was in the first few days, when lawyers frantically drafted habeas petitions for individuals in CBP custody. Now, they largely gather information on those who had their visas cancelled abroad, and occasionally file petitions for individuals from the seven countries affected who are detained in secondary screening for more than six hours.

“They’re detained when they get off flights [and] they’re held for four or five hours,” Camille Mackler, the director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, told The Daily Beast.

That’s pretty standard for secondary screening, she said. Only now it applies to everyone from the seven countries as they wait to get waivers from CBP.