By Rich Bockmann
Astoria has long been defined by its ethnic groups — first it was the Italians, then the Greeks — and last week the neighborhood’s Muslims took a large step toward establishing themselves with the grand opening of the Muslim American Society’s community center on Steinway Street.
MAS is a nationwide, nonprofit, religious, social and cultural organization, and for years the Queens chapter operated out of the Dar Al-Dawah mosque at 35-13 23rd Ave.
Community leaders gathered Friday evening at the new 3,200-square-foot center just south of 25th Avenue, which offers programs on education, community service and youth development.
Ahmed Jamil, president of the community center, said its focus is to lift up the individual, family and society for every New Yorker — both Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) spoke about the difficulties immigrant communities face when trying to become assimilated and offered to help the Muslim community access government.
City Comptroller John Liu said that with almost 1 million Muslim New Yorkers, there is an insistent need to develop a greater understanding of the community.
“As this community continues to grow in size and stature, this community grows in need as well, and that’s exactly what this community center tries to address,” he said. “We all have a stake in making sure the MAS community center is as successful as can be.”
The ceremony occurred just days after a New York Times article revealed the NYPD had shown an inflammatory anti-Muslim film entitled “The Third Jihad” to more than 1,400 officers during training. Police commissioner Ray Kelly was interviewed for the film in 2007.
Several officers from the 114th Precinct attended the grand opening, and after praising the neighborhood’s “great police department,” City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) offered to act as a liaison between the Muslim community and the police, should any conflicts ever occur.
“We never have problems here in Astoria,” he said. “Everyone gets along, and it’s because of groups like this.”
Speaking with reporters, Jamil said he had personally spoken with Kelly several times in the past.
“We have a very good relationship,” he said, pointing out that the NYPD’s decision as an institution to show the film was not acceptable. “Those 1,500 police officers should come back to correct their perspective of Muslims.”
Jamil said he did not feel betrayed by Kelly’s participation, saying the commissioner was more likely “mistaken” and said both an investigation and an apology were in order.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.