A few hundred people marched down Madison Avenue last Sunday in the 32nd Annual Muslim Day Parade. For the first time in its history, a rabbi served as the honorary grand marshal at the parade. Imam Shamsi Ali, President of the Muslim Foundation of America—the group that organizes the annual event, invited Rabbi Marc Schneier in order to send a message of unity.
Imam Ali said that he and Rabbi Schneier, who is the President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, have had a long working relationship speaking against religious persecution, specifically against Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism. Rabbi Schneier’s presence at the parade reflects the theme of the 32 nd Annual Muslim Day Parade: Building Bridges. Imam Ali urged for communities of different faiths to connect and help fight each other’s battle. “Islamophobia is not my fight, this is his fight,” Imam Ali stated, referring to Rabbi Schneier, “And let me just tell you too, that Anti-Semitism is not his fight, this is my fight.”
At this year’s parade, the Muslim community was fighting for the rights of a specific people: the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Participants carried signs that read “We Are All Rohingya” and “Stop Genocide,” some of which contained graphic images of murdered Rohingya children. As the participants walked, they chanted, “Break the silence, end the violence.”
Roaa Ayoub, a 17-year old girl from Palestine, carried a self-made sign that read, “Stop the Genocide.” She said she was participating in a parade for the first time in her life, and walked alongside friends who held signs saying, “Rise for Rohingya,” and “Save Rohingya Save Humanity.”
“We’re here to stop the genocide because Burma people are being killed, raped,” Ayoub explained, “And all of that just because they’re Muslims.” The genocide that Ayoub spoke of is what the Human Rights Watch has described as an “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingyas by the military regime in Myanmar formerly known as Burma. The Rohingyas are a stateless people, predominantly Muslim, living in a Buddhist-majority country. Hundreds of thousands of them have been forced to flee Myanmar because of crackdowns by the government’s security forces—which have involved rape, torture, and murder.
Kaji Uddin, 63, was another participant who attended the parade to stand in solidarity with Rohingya Muslims. Uddin moved from Bangladesh to New York three months ago. In his limited English, he said, “We want peace.”
As the Muslim community walked to express their solidarity with the Rohingya people in Myanmar, individuals from other religious groups walked to express their solidarity with the Muslim community. The presence of the Jewish community at the parade extended beyond Rabbi Schneier’s role as a grand marshal. Different Jewish organizations marched alongside Muslim men and women. One of these groups was Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), a Jewish synagogue that welcomes LGBTQ members.
A representative of CBST, Sabrina Farber, 53, explained that the synagogue’s participation was an outgrowth of a relationship with the mosque that developed after the November, 2016 presidential election. “We wanted them to feel like they were not alone,” she said. “We feel that Muslims are an important part of our community, an important part of our country. We refuse to let the administration in Washington change those realities.”
At the end of his speech, Imam Ali thanked Mayor Bill de Blasio (who did not attend) for having declared that “New York is one New York.”
“It’s not only white New Yorkers, it’s not only black New Yorkers,” Imam Ali said, “it’s one New York.”