Rashed Mian

Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: rmian@longislandpress.com. Twitter: rashedmian

Long Island Mosque Tackles Radicalization with Message of Hope

Islamic Center of Long Island
Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. (Photo credit: Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

In what could be considered a call to action for Long Island Muslims, a prominent Imam from Egypt on Friday encouraged the congregation at a Westbury mosque to rise above the challenges facing the community amid a rise of both Islamophobia and extremism.

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“We know as good practicing Muslims we should not bury our heads in the sand,” Sheikh Ibrahim Negm, visiting scholar from Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, told the congregation at the Islamic Center of Long Island during his sermon on Friday. “Rather, we should rise to meet the difficult challenges we are facing.”

Negm, an advisor to the Grand Mufti of Egypt, has headlined a three-day lecture series at the ICLI this week that concludes Saturday night.

Titled “Upholding Moderation & Resisting Radicalization,” the series hopes to reach out to young people and anyone else in the community disheartened by anti-Muslim rhetoric whipping through the media and American politics.

The ICLI, which last year launched an interfaith institute, has spearheaded efforts to address Islamophobia with educational services and events that focus on religious solidarity. The mosque has also been instrumental in addressing misconceptions about the religion and has vocally condemned attacks by bloodthirsty extremists groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Muslims are often criticized for not doing enough to impede a person’s path toward radicalization. The ICLI is taking the proactive step of addressing the issue by empowering those within the community.

In an interview, Negm said the purpose of his sermon was to present a framework that the community can use to be more involved. He admitted that he does not have all the answers.

As someone who does not live in the community, Negm said, “I cannot suggest practical steps” but rather a “framework” that will guide congregants forward.

“We are facing…whether we are talking about this part of the world or globally, we are facing imminent challenges as Muslims,” Negm told the packed mosque.

He reminded Islam’s adherents that such speed bumps are ingrained in the religion—tests that every Muslim must confront.

“We shall be visited with trial and tribulations,” Negm said, citing the Koran. He added, “Life on this planet Earth is a testing ground.”

It’s normal for people to feel anguish over Islamophobic remarks, but it’s important not to fall into a state of despair, Negm explained.

“Don’t get overwhelmed by what we are going through,” he added.

Negm stopped short of instructing the community about how to act as a collective voice, opting instead to inspire change on a local level.

“Are we doing the homework or are we just passing the buck?” he asked, rhetorically. “We should take ownership of the situation we are experiencing and see what we can do.”

The third and final installment of the ICLI’s “Upholding Moderation & Resisting Radicalization” series is Saturday at 7:15 p.m. 835 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury.

Long Island Protesters Condemn ‘Fascist’ Donald Trump’s Hate-Filled Campaign


16-year-old Muslim American girl who frequently gets taunted for her religious beliefs. A son of Mexican immigrants who’s been discriminated against all his life. A father of two who has never attended a protest before but wanted to introduce his kids to the political process.

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These were some of the diverse faces of the several hundred protestors who demonstrated outside GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s rally at Grumman Studios in Bethpage Wednesday night.

Standing for several hours just beyond the entrance to Trump’s much-ballyhooed campaign stop, incensed protesters waved signs amid bone-chilling temperatures, decrying what many perceive to be Islamophobic, racist and misogynistic comments from the delegate-leading Republican hopeful.

“No more room for hate, America is great!” protesters chanted from where they were sequestered, as pro-Trump Long Islanders made their way to the rally one day after their top pick for the White House suffered a brutal defeat to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) in Wisconsin.

“Trump’s a fascist!” they screamed in a rhythm that mimicked a “Let’s Go Yankees!” chant.

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, hateful Trump has got to go!” the bundled bodies billowed as the evening sky melted to black.

Protesters began huddling around 4 p.m., occupying a space across the street from Grumman Studios’ entrance dubbed the “Free Speech Zone” by local law enforcement authorities, which attracted an odd mix of pro-Trump followers and his many detractors. Some business savvy supporters sold Trump apparel—hats, shirts, and buttons—beside a food truck vendor advertising Halal meat.

Busloads of Trump supporters responded to some of the jeers with a flash of their middle finger—a greeting even some children riding on board took part in.

The protest was mostly peaceful until a large group of Trump fans who had failed to enter the Grumman Studios because the venue was at full capacity started a counter-protest that prompted an hours-long standoff under the watchful eye of Nassau County police officers in riot gear and cops mounted on horseback.

Donald Trump Rally Long Island
Nassau County police officers in riot gear stand between Donald Trump protesters and the GOP frontrunner’s fans.

In order to maintain the peace, officers separated the rival groups, prompting chants of “Build that wall!” from Trump supporters, who ironically were the ones being blocked off.

The Trump group yelled “White Lives Matter,!” recommended that protesters “Get a job,” and chanted, “Leave this country!”

They also took on the two Democrats vying for their party’s nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, was dubbed a “Communist,” and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, was chided for perceived lies she supposedly spewed.

“We do our jobs, we come home, we want to watch some Netflix and binge on some brownies.”

When a Trump supporter condemned Clinton for her untruths, someone on the other side of the rally responded, “Fuck you, we don’t like her, either.”

At one point, both sides engaged in dueling “U-S-A” chants, as if to demonstrate one side was more patriotic than the other.

So went the first anti-Trump demonstration on Long Island in 2016: High school insults were traded, bravado did not manifest into much of substance, and demonstrators chanted until their vocal chords gave out.

Aside from the broadsides exchanged by both sides, protester after protester said they had deep misgivings with the GOP favorite and were uncomfortable with some of his remarks he’s made on the campaign trail about Muslims, Mexicans and women.

Mahira Siddiqi, a mother of three from Hicksville, felt compelled to attend Wednesday’s rally because of rampant Islamophobia careening through the media.

“I think a lot of the people who are out here don’t really know any Muslims that closely, and I think if they took the time to talk to some of us they would realize that we’re just like them,” Siddiqi told the Press.

“We do our jobs, we come home, we want to watch some Netflix and binge on some brownies,” she added. “And we want to raise our kids in a peaceful society, and we want our kids to have the same opportunities that we did. And for most of us, we were born here, so this is home. This is it.”

Siddiqi lamented that both her 11- and 8-year-old are old enough to understand to some degree that anti-Islam sentiment is roiling America today.

She said she tries to shield them from the rhetoric because “it just hurts my heart for them to have to feel that.” But she felt compelled to take her place in Bethpage.

“Because the level of hate has just gotten so much, it’s become necessary for people who maybe normally would not go out and be activists to do so,” she said.

Long Island Donald Trump rally
A business-savy Long Islander selling Donald Trump apparel outside his rally in Bethpage. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

As if on cue, Jeff Zilberstein, 42, of East Islip was sauntering around the barricaded area with his 7-year-old daughter perched atop his shoulders.

It was the first time Zilberstein ever attended a protest. He decided to make it a family affair, bringing along his wife and two kids.

“I think that they need to understand what the political process is all about. I’ve never done this before,” Zilberstein said. “You can agree to disagree about a lot of things, but I have a hard time agreeing to disagree about Trump.”

To him, the bombastic reality TV star and businessman’s being in the race “was a joke to begin with—and he’s not a joke anymore,” he said.

Benjetta Miller of Bay Shore was standing under a tree holding a “Stand Against Islamophobia” sign.

Miller, a Sanders supporter who is not eligible to vote in the state’s April 19 primary because New York’s closed primary rules don’t allow registered Independents to cast a ballot, said she’d vote for Clinton in the general election if it came down to it.

“There’s just no room in our country, in our government, for a Donald Trump,” she said.

The Ahmed family from Woodmere would agree.

Sarfaraz Ahmed, his wife and daughter, Yursa, decided to attend the rally to protest what they consider racist remarks espoused by Trump, and because their family has been the victim of Islamophobic comments.

“Our kids go to school, and they’ve been harassed. They’ve been called names because we wear different clothes,” said Sarafarz, adding that his children have been branded “terrorists” by bullies.

“We are here for 40 years—my brother came [in] 1973,” added the Pakistani immigrant. “All the kids were born here. Grew up here. Went to school here.”

His 16-year-old daughter Yursa, who attends private school, expressed her disappointment that people would judge an entire religion based on the acts of a select few.

“It’s like a classroom. When one kid messes up, the whole class doesn’t have recess,” said Yursa, who has been taunted by people when she goes into New York City. “Why do we have to suffer if someone else messed up?”

Long Island Donald Trump rally
The Ahmed family from Woodmere lamented anti-Muslim sentiment in America today. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Muslims aren’t the only ones who felt compelled to speak out.

“The reason I feel like joining is because a lot of people of my skin complexion would rather hold their silence than stand up and let their voices be heard,” said 22-year-old Key Martinez of North Bellmore. “I’m not an illegal immigrant, but my family are, so I’m here for them.”

Martinez has specifically objected to Trump’s proposal to have Mexico build a wall to prevent people crossing America’s southern border.

If his family hadn’t come more than 25 years ago, he’d never have the opportunities now offered to him.

“I’ve been discriminated all of my life,” said Martinez, who attends Nassau Community College where he also works. “This is the first time I get to stand up for that.”

Martinez summed up what many other people in the crowd said they have been feeling as they’ve watched Trump tour the country while promising to make America great by banning Muslims, putting the Muslims that are here in databases, keeping Mexicans out, punishing women for abortions if they’re deemed illegal (before he backtracked), and lessening America’s role militarily by suggesting countries like Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear bombs to defend themselves.

“He is prejudice,” Martinez said, “and there’s no way of denying that.”

Cuomo Signs New York $15 Minimum Wage Bill

NY $15 Minimum Wage
Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a rally at Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan Monday, April 4 to celebrate historic $15 minimum wage hike. (Photo credit: Don Pollard/ New York Governor's Office)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday declared victory in the fight for a $15 minimum wage with a congratulatory rally in Manhattan that also served as a campaign stop for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

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A smiling Cuomo, who made the $15 minimum wage hike a top priority of his 2016 agenda, told the partisan crowd at Jacob Javits Center that the new pay bump, included in this year’s state budget, would “restore economic fairness” and help rebuild a fractured middle class.

“We defined the problem,” Cuomo said. “We explained the unfairness, and the people of the state of New York responded because the people of this state demand fairness and demand justice.”

Joining Cuomo on stage was Clinton, the former secretary of state and twice-elected New York Senator. Clinton didn’t shy away from using the governor’s legislative achievement to attack GOP frontrunner Donald Trump even though she’s still entrenched in a primary battle of her own against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist.

New York’s wage hike won’t go into effect immediately. The plan calls for Nassau and Suffolk counties to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour by the end of 2016, followed by a $1 hike in pay each year until the $15 cap is reached by 2021. New York City businesses would raise their hourly wage to $15 by the end of 2018. Small business owners and industries operating in other regions of the state will separately be required to raise wages incrementally over a four-year period.

The uneven rollout may be complicated, but it was intended to give anxious business owners time to adjust before they become mandated to pay the legal $15 minimum. The new law, however, does not include tipped workers.

Before its recent passage, Cuomo spent considerable time on the road to build a formidable coalition to support the bill. For a brief period, the governor’s strategy included campaign-style rallies in which he toured the state in a ostentatious red-and-blue RV.

“It was the labor movement that built this nation’s middle class in the first place and we’re rebuilding the middle class for a new economy today,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo’s back-patting speech also included some presidential campaign undertones, taking veiled shots at Trump without mentioning the bombastic reality TV star and billionaire businessman by name.

“I’ll tell you what we did not do in New York,” Cuomo said. “We didn’t take the anger, and we didn’t fan the flames of the anger, and we didn’t use the anger politically. And some voices out there want to do just that: they want to take that anger, and they want to use it politically. They want to use it as a way to turn us against each other.”

Clinton, who has been campaigning in New York in advance of the state’s April 19 presidential primary, called the $15 wage hike a “real watershed.”

During her campaign, Clinton has advocated for a $12 federal minimum wage but said she supports local governments that pass their own pay hikes. On Monday, the former two-term U.S. Senator predicted that New York’s achievement would be far-reaching. “I know it’s going to sweep our country,” she said. Her opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), has called on the federal government to raise the minimum wage to $15.

President Obama released a statement Monday commending lawmakers in New York for their efforts while issuing a long-shot plea for Congress to follow their lead.

“This action means more parents won’t have to choose between their job and caring for their new children,” Obama said. “It means more workers can earn a higher wage to help make ends meet.”

The agreement by New York lawmakers came less than a week after California became the first state in the country to approve a $15 minimum wage hike.

Cuomo also signed into law a 12-week paid family leave bill that will go into effect in 2018 and will include both part-time and full-time employees.

(Gov. Andrew Cuomo held a rally at Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan Monday, April 4 to celebrate historic $15 minimum wage hike. Photo credit: Don Pollard/ New York Governor’s Office)

‘Eye in the Sky’ Forces Us to See the Human Toll of Drone Warfare

In what was mostly a spellbinding portrayal of the cost of drone warfare in the 21st century, there were moments in Gavin Hood’s “Eye in the Sky” that you couldn’t help but wonder if the director was engaging in cheeky satire as one British bureaucrat after another anguished over a decision to kill terrorists in a drone strike on Kenya that would also serve as a likely death sentence for an innocent girl selling bread outside their hideout.

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From the United Kingdom’s attorney general to the foreign minister, those civilians entrusted to make critical military decisions chose instead to “refer up”—meaning pass the buck so the next person in line would have to live with the consequences. The term was so widely used that it was tough not to snicker even though the stakes were so high.

The only people totally committed to bombing a house in Nairobi to take out three high-level terrorists—two UK citizens and one American—seemingly planning a suicide bombing were Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) and General Benson (the late Alan Rickman).

The decision facing England’s elected officials in “Eye in the Sky” is whether or not to approve the drone strike after it became clear that capturing the subjects in unfriendly territory would be nearly impossible.

Those advocating for the strike were operating under the impression that the loss of one life—the young girl selling bread—is easier to live with than risking dozens of lives if the terror subjects were successful in carrying out an attack.

On the flip side, as the British attorney general noted, the UK would look like the villains if it ever emerged that the government went ahead with the missile strike even though they knew the young girl’s life was in jeopardy. Indeed, the military had no idea where the al Shabaab terrorists were planning to strike, but they did not want to live through another Westgate shopping mall massacre in Nairobi, which left 67 people dead in 2013.

If this is how officials decide whether to bomb alleged terrorists in undeclared war zones like Kenya, then perhaps controversial assassinations—or “targeted killings”—from unmanned, remote-piloted aircrafts aren’t getting the level of scrutiny they deserve.

And maybe that’s the point “Eye in the Sky” endeavors to make. Not that drone strikes are immoral or incredibly effective, depending on how you see it, but that the program itself is flawed because protocols governing use of this nascent technology are not yet firmly in place. Sure, it’s easy to compel a pilot to pull the trigger on people you are 100-percent sure are the bad guys, but what happens when innocent lives are caught in the crossfire or you’re unsure if the people you’re targeting are truly terrorists? Who should be the one to make that decision? And if the intelligence is faulty or incomplete, should a deadly strike even be up for consideration?

At home, the debate has been raging for years over how the United States conducts drone attacks and whether the risk of collateral damage is too great. Many of the drone strikes operated by the US take place in countries where we’re not at war, like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, which heightens civilian exposure. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, US drone strikes have killed somewhere between 423 and 965 civilians in Pakistan since 2004. It’s difficult to ascertain the exact civilian death toll because such stats are kept secret.

“Eye in the Sky” also addresses the strain drone attacks put on US Air Force pilots operating out of a military base in Las Vegas.

Drone warfare has for years been compared to video games, in which soldiers in America remotely pilot drones over the skies of Africa and the Middle East. If the decision is made to strike a target, the operator presses the appropriate button and watches the target explode. Through the lens of the drone, the pilots can see the destruction the missile has reaped, but the aftermath is inaudible. The pilot won’t hear cries of family members or catch a whiff of smoldering flesh. They follow targets with deft precision, strike a building or a vehicle if need be, ascertain whether the target was killed, and return the aircraft to a nearby base.

Aaron Paul, who gives a searing portrayal of a US Air Force pilot/drone operator named Steve Watts, is at the controls of the drone hovering over Nairobi, and he poignantly captures the emotional tug-of-war that the more hardened generals have so effectively repressed. When Paul offers a heart-warming smirk as he sees the little girl playing with a hula-hoop in her backyard, it’s as if he’s standing right beside her. But those tear-jerking moments are fleeting, because it becomes apparent to us that the people inside the house are preparing for a bloody attack.

It’s difficult to leave this suspenseful film and not wonder out loud, “What would you do?” But perhaps the more pressing issue facing world leaders is whether it has become so easy to kill with a remote control that we’ve all forgotten the human cost of war?

(Featured photo credit: Bleeker Street Media/Eye in the Sky)

NYC School Guidance Counselor, Union Rep Pleads Guilty to Trading Child Porn

A 43-year-old Valley Stream man who served as a New York City school guidance counselor and teacher’s union representative admitted Tuesday to exchanging child porn over the Internet, federal authorities announced.

John Capuano pleaded guilty to transportation of child pornography in interstate and foreign commerce before US Magistrate Judge Gary R. Brown at federal court in Central Islip. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison.

“This crime was particularly egregious in that Capuano was a school guidance counselor entrusted with ensuring the safety and well-being of children while he at the same time was victimizing them by distributing images of child pornography,” Robert Capers, US Attorney for the Easter District of New York, said in a statement.

Capuano’s guilty plea stems from an undercover investigation last April in which authorities discovered that child porn involving kids as young as three years old had been posted to a chat room by Capuano. Investigators traced the information to Capuano, and a search warrant was executed at his Valley Stream home on May 28, 2015.

It was during that search that authorities said Capuano admitted to trading child porn through an app on at least two devices, one of which was used for teacher’s union business, authorities said.

Capuano has been in federal custody ever since his arrest last year.

Prosecutors did not announce a sentencing date.

Cops: Deer Park Man Fired Gun at Homes, Cars

A 25-year-old Deer Park man was arrested for firing a handgun at several homes and vehicles in his hometown earlier this month, Suffolk County police said.

Cameron Cincotta was charged with three counts of criminal mischief and three counts of reckless endangerment.

Police have accused Cincotta of firing a .45-caliber handgun at two homes on Fairview Avenue and one on Oakland Avenue on March 19. All three homes were occupied at the time of the shootings, police said.

On the same day, Cincotta allegedly fired at parked vehicles on Fairview Avenue, West 20th Street and West 16th Street, police said.

The gun used in the alleged shootings was recovered, police said.

Levittown Man Killed in Crash with Tractor Trailer on LIE, Cops Say

A 37-year-old Levittown man was killed Monday morning on the Long Island Expressway, Nassau County police said.

Oscar Reyes-Contereras lost control of his 2007 Ford Mustang near exit 45 in Plainvew at 7:45 a.m. His car caromed off a guardrail and was struck by a tractor trailer, police said.

Reyes-Contereras was pronounced dead at a local hospital about an hour after the crash, police said.

Police did not say if the 45-year-old driver of the tractor trailer suffered any injuries. The transport truck passed a brake-and-safety inspection at the scene, police said.

There is no criminality suspected at this time, according to police.

Central Islip Woman, 28, Killed in Crash, Cops Say

A 28-year-old Central Islip woman died in a single-car crash on the Southern State Parkway early Sunday morning, New York State police said.

The victim, Stephanie Francois, was driving a 2010 Chevrolet westbound at 12:35 a.m. near exit 25N when the crash occurred, police said.

Authorities said in a news release that Francois was approaching the Newbridge Road exit at “a high rate of speed” when she lost control of the vehicle, which overturned on the north shoulder.

Francois was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.

The investigation into the accident is ongoing, police said.

For Muslim American Voters, ‘Stakes are High’ this Presidential Election

Muslim leaders held a rally at Masjid Noor in Huntington on Dec. 18, 2015 to condemn violence and bigotry. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)


wo weeks before the 2000 presidential election, a group of influential Muslim Americans gathered in the nation’s capital to endorse the one candidate who made an effort to meet with Muslim leaders and address their concerns, both foreign and domestic.

It’s unclear if the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council’s pledge played a significant role in sending voters to the polls, but when all the ballots were tallied—Florida recount and all—it emerged that Muslim Americans had come out in droves to support George W. Bush, as the Texas governor enjoyed 70 percent of the Muslim vote.

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Six days after the horrific attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Bush had not forgotten about these people who helped carry him to victory. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Muslim leaders at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., Bush famously declared: “Islam is peace.”

By 2004, however, it became clear that the admiration a majority of Muslim Americans felt toward Bush just four years earlier had waned. It was replaced not with apathy but scorn. This time, it was his Democratic challenger John Kerry who would go on to grab nearly three quarters of the Muslim vote, which essentially served as an emphatic rebuke of Bush’s controversial Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent monitoring of US Muslims under his watch. As Bush’s first term was winding down, 69-percent of Muslims—nearly the same percentage that supported the president—said they disapproved of his job performance.

Dr. Safdar Chadda of New Hyde Park was one of those Muslims who found that Republican values aligned with his political beliefs when he moved to this country four decades ago. But after two terms of Bush in the White House, he abandoned the GOP. In 2008, Chadda backed Sen. Barack Obama.

Now it’s unlikely that Chadda, a registered Independent, will vote for a Republican in this year’s presidential election.

“This is a matter of life and death…right now, if you hear the rhetoric,” Chadda, the original president of Westbury’s Islamic Center of Long Island, told the Press.

After each terror attack, the rhetoric seems to ricochet unabated on cable news and in the mainstream media. In the aftermath of Tuesday’s horrific bombings in Brussels, which killed 31 and injured more than 300, Donald Trump reaffirmed his Muslim ban proposal by saying the US should close its borders. His closest rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, suggested authorities “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” to prevent radicalization. Cruz’s remarks were met with resistance from NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who said Cruz “doesn’t know what the hell is talking about.”

Interviews with local Muslim leaders and national organizations committed to amplifying the voices of this much-maligned population revealed a portrait of a community deeply fearful of anti-Islam statements by Republican presidential hopefuls. But at the same time, Muslim American voters appear more committed than ever before to head to the ballot box, advocates say.

Indeed, a six-state survey released by the Muslim civil rights organization Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in February found that 73 percent of registered Muslim voters said they will vote in their respective primary elections, with 67 percent vowing to support Democratic candidates.

New York doesn’t hold its primary until April 19 but the deadline to register to vote is Friday, March 25, thus the frenzied attempt to encourage people to register with their local Board of Elections.

Chadda said organizing efforts in Nassau County began about six months ago. Each volunteer was charged with encouraging at least 10 Muslim American families to register. Chadda said at least 100 families have since pledged to vote for the next president of the United States.

“The stakes are high,” he said.

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In Suffolk County, Nayyar Imam, the first-ever chaplain of the Suffolk County Police Department, said announcements have been made during Friday prayer at the Selden Mosque reminding people to get registered.

If a silver lining can be found in the fog of election warfare, it may be that Muslim Americans are so incensed by Islamophobic remarks that they’re more committed to head to the polls, Imam said.

“It’s a wake-up call for the Muslims of America,” he explained, “because, as you know, most of us don’t participate in the political system.”

The current political climate may prompt many more Muslims to vote this time around. But, as Imam noted, disagreements over Middle Eastern policies going back to the Reagan administration and continuing under President Obama may also motivate people.

“Obama killed more Muslims than Bush…with the drones and with the wars and with the countless bombing of countries,” he said. “Muslim blood is so cheap.”

Sadyia Khalique is the director of CAIR’s New York chapter. She said the national organization has been busy overseeing voter registration efforts but the local objective is to reach out to people through social media and in the community.

“People have the power to change government. People have the power to get their voices heard,” she told the Press. “Why not utilize that?”

A common refrain among voters in liberal-leaning New York is that the April primary here is insignificant and hardly an accurate representation of the national electorate. But, as Khalique puts it, “What we’re finding is with voting, it’s not only something that’s a physical thing to do. It’s an empowering thing to do.”

“This is a matter of life and death…right now, if you hear the rhetoric”

Absent reliable polling data that would help determine voter turnout by religion, it’s difficult to quantify how many Muslim American voters have already participated in this year’s presidential primaries. Ghazala Salam, executive director for Emerge USA in Florida, a non-profit advocacy group that promotes voter participation in several swing states, estimates that 70 to 80 percent of Muslim voters in Florida actually turned out.

Current estimates put the Muslim population in the US at 3.3 million. That number is likely to double by 2050, perhaps making that voting bloc much more desirable for elected officials.

“We have the highest number of younger people among all the diverse communities, so for that reason, [in] the future they’re just going to grow in numbers,” Salam told the Press.

Still, she added, “You don’t want to marginalize anybody.”

While Muslims have been outspoken about xenophobic comments made by Republican demagogues campaigning for president, some insist the best way to offer a rebuke to those candidates is by making people’s voice heard at the polls.

Advocacy groups said they believe young Muslim Americans are more engaged in the political process than ever before. Salam credits Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is “resonating more with the younger generation.”

Chadda is convinced that anti-Islam rhetoric will die down after the heated election.

“Pre-9/11 Muslims were very well respected, very well honored,” he explained.

Not everyone is as optimistic.

“Our community has already been spied upon,” said Khalique, referring to the NYPD’s blanket surveillance of Muslims after 9/11, which failed to turn up a single lead.

She said that CAIR often gets calls from clients who feel the FBI is watching them. That sense of paranoia is not going away any time soon.

“We always feel like we’re being targeted,” she said.

It’s a Knockout: New York Lawmakers Legalize MMA

Chris Weidman Getty Images

An eight-year bout pitting a dysfunctional state Legislature against chiseled Mixed Martial Arts fighters came to an end Tuesday when the Assembly approved a bill legalizing the sport in New York State, paving the way for huge paydays at venues like Madison Square Garden.

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill, which he’s expected to do, New York will be the last state in the nation to let MMA combatants into the ring. Despite concerns from some lawmakers uncomfortable with the sport’s perceived brutality, the measure’s backers slammed the opponents to the mat, winning by a huge margin, 113-35.

The lengthy and grueling battle notwithstanding, those who make a living in the sport’s premier league, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), were gratified by the legal victory.

“Speaking for myself, I’ve been fighting now for seven years and I’ve been missing out on opportunities to fight in front of my family, friends and fans here in New York,” said Baldwin-native Chris Weidman, the former UFC middleweight title-holder, during a conference call with reporters. “Every year you’re just hopeful… For it to finally happen is a dream come true for me.”

Lindenhurt’s Ryan LaFlare and West Islip’s Chris Wade, both professional UFC fighters, took to Twitter to rejoice over the news:

Long Island’s UFC pros may be chomping at the bit to fight in front of a home crowd but they won’t be stepping into a ring in New York until July or August, at the earliest.

Once Cuomo adds his name to the legislation, a 120-day prohibition period kicks in before a venue can legally host an MMA fight. The New York State Athletic Commission also has to adopt rules to regulate the sport.

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But UFC executives are confident the process will be free of the type of controversy that has made the sport such a hot-button issue in New York.

Lorenzo Feritta, chairman and CEO of UFC, told reporters during the conference call that he expects New York will host at least two events before the end of the year, with New York City, possibly Madison Square Garden or Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, at the top of the list.

The second event could take place in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester or Utica, Feritta said.

“The minute that the vote passed our team started calling various arenas and looking at what dates are available,” he told reporters.

The legislature has been wrestling with legalizing the sport for nearly a decade. The State Senate had passed an MMA bill for seven years in a row but the measure never received the support of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a New York City Democrat, who lost his seat after he was found guilty of corruption.

Weidman said on Tuesday that he was “embarrassed” for the lawmakers who had used harsh words when characterizing UFC fighters.

“Some of things that they were saying were so ridiculous that I was actually happy and embarrassed for them for even bringing it up,” he said.

After grappling with whether to legalize MMA for so long, the legislature has now agreed to send it to Cuomo’s desk, where his signature is a near guarantee.

Mark Ratner, senior vice president of Regulatory Affairs for UFC, summed up the mixed emotions felt by many people with a stake in the sport.

“I look back and it was frustrating,” he said, “but today I’m thrilled.”