By Mark Hallum
The travel ban issued by President Donald Trump for Muslims traveling from seven countries has Queens organizations on high alert to protect their members from what Asad Bajwa of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Center in southern Queens called a breach of the Constitution.
Ahmadiyya is an organization which has openly rejected terrorism in every form and advocates for the separation of government and religion. It has a global membership in the tens of millions and provides legal representation as one of its many services. The group has a mosque located at 188-15 McLaughlin Ave.. in Hollis.
“The Constitution does not allow discrimination based on religion, race, etc.,” said Bajwa, a Queens Village resident. “Our community understands that you have to vet who’s coming, but to discriminate based on religion — that is what is very troubling to me as a New Yorker and a Muslim-American.”
Bajwa, director of public affairs for Ahmadiyya in the United States, had contacts who are green card holders in Yemen when the executive order was issued and faced uncertainty over whether they could return home even if they were permanent U.S. residents. Tensions were high until the order was clarified for them the day following the ban, and they now know they can return.
“We have advised them not to travel outside the country, because if you’re traveling and they add more countries, then you may not be able to come back,” Bajwa said. “Our legal association has given advice not to travel outside the country if you’re a green card holder.”
Ahmadiyya has set a priority to fight extremism over the past 15 years, Bajwa said, which includes making its presence in communities known and presenting the peaceful side of Islam through national media.
“The implication that you can target based on religion or race or profession or color… this is a very troubling start because it will tear the fabric of our society,” Bajwa said. “Our main concern is not only for us but for the society at large. We live in a very beautiful society, and we don’t want to see that happen, which can happen.”
State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), a strong advocate for the Muslim community, issued a statement calling on Congress to strike down the executive order.
“On Friday, the president issued a morally reprehensible and unconstitutional executive order that seeks to ban certain refugees and immigrants from entering our country,” Weprin said. “This order is a slap in the face to all Americans, a nation built on the backs of immigrants and refugees fleeing persecution and violence, and must be opposed by every person of character on both sides of the aisle. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us and a ban on any faith is a ban on all faiths. As such, I look forward to seeing congressional action to overturn this executive order and will continue to fight for the premise of religious freedom and equality in our great state of New York.”
Non-Muslims are even taking cautionary steps.
Jagir Singh Bains of the Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill worries that the intensifying political climate and the recent travel ban could have implications for the Sikh community because the most common physical depiction of a Muslim terrorist resembles members of his own religion.
At his Gurudwara Sunday, he told fellow worshipers to act with caution since Sikhs are often confused with Muslims, who also wear a turban and beard. Bains saw cases of mistaken identity unfold following 9/11 when members of his own community were attacked on the streets and convenience stores.
A Feb. 5 meeting will be called to address these concerns and advise the Sikh community on how to conduct themselves with details of the meeting pending.
According to Bajwa, the best action for Muslims facing uncertainty with travel should contact a good lawyer, the ACLU or Amhadiyya’s legal association.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall