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Masjid Hamza Islamic Center of Valley Stream hosts MLK service to emphasize unity

Participants hold hands and sing during a memorial

Participants hold hands and sing during a memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2015, at the Masjid Hamza Islamic Center of South Shore in Valley Stream. Credit: Johnny Milano

The Valley Stream Religious Council had marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the past, but never in a mosque.

The anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail led organizers to the Masjid Hamza Islamic Center of South Shore in Valley Stream. About 100 attended the annual interfaith service Sunday, which honors the legacy of the slain civil rights leader and Baptist preacher.

“The message of MLK and his struggle for equal rights and fairness for all applies in this day and age when the message of hate seems to be selling,” Karim Mozawalla, a mosque trustee, said. He referred the call from Donald Trump, the New York businessman and GOP presidential candidate, to bar Muslims from entering the United States.

Religious leaders recited prayers, community leaders read speeches and all sang “We Shall Overcome” toward the close of the service. Organizers played a 12-minute speech that King gave to accept the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, in 1964.

Leaders of mosques across the country have worried that last month’s terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, California, would ignite anti-Muslim sentiments because the people who carried out the attacks had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terrorist group. Leaders of mosques on Long Island have publicly condemned acts of terrorism and vowed to root out extremism in the faith.

“We wanted to move it to here to show that this is a group of people who love humanity are not terrorists,” Marie McNair, a member of the Baha’i Center of Nassau County, said. “We purposely decided to have it at a mosque as a statement that we fully support each other.”

The event drew remarks from community leaders, including Mayor Edwin Fare, and leaders from churches and synagogues.

Community leaders have worked to highlight the diversity within the village. Once a predominantly Irish and Italian village, Valley Stream boasts a growing Asian and Hispanic population. A fall festival draws thousands to the community’s business district, where food trucks sell native dishes and Caribbean dancing is on full display.

Fare said Sunday’s service had united sections of the 38,000-resident village.

Joy Jackson, 34, came from Fresh Meadows, Queens, and said it was her first time visiting a mosque. Jackson, who said she is not religious, noticed similarities among the various faiths represented at the service. For example, she said, many of the religious leaders referenced Adam in their remarks.

“I’ve never been at an event with so many different religions working toward one goal,” Jackson said.

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