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Westbury forum brings together Muslims, law enforcement reps

Dr. Mufti Mohammad Farhan speaks during a forum

Dr. Mufti Mohammad Farhan speaks during a forum between Muslims, law enforcement officials and others at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Fears about racial profiling among some Long Island Muslims were addressed at a gathering of Islamic community members and law enforcement officials in Westbury on Saturday.

The forum, hosted by the Islamic Center of Long Island, was designed to promote understanding and build trust and communication between local Muslims, legislators and law enforcement officials.

During the meeting, audience members asked questions about racial profiling, terror watch lists and what criteria police agencies use before questioning people on terror-related incidents.

Law enforcement representatives assured the roughly 50 Muslim residents in attendance that it was safe to call authorities if they had clues or suspicions about anyone who could be involved in potentially violent attacks.

Seemi Ahmed, who sits on the center’s board of trustees, added that the Muslim community was “concerned” about racial profiling — a topic that several officials addressed.

Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said Suffolk officers were not trained to profile specific people but rather to identify suspicious behavior.

Greg Ehrie, special agent in charge of the Intelligence Division at the FBI’s New York office, said his agency was more interested in “pinpointing” suspicious actions.

“We don’t have time for profiling,” he said.

Nassau acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said such profiling by Nassau police wouldn’t be tolerated, and encouraged residents who think they have encountered such incidents to file a complaint or contact the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau.

Dr. Isma Chaudhry, president of the center, said such forums were essential in building trust at a time when Muslims face “a constant state of anxiety” — especially after such events as the recent bombings in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood and New Jersey.

“We all know that Islamophobia is not a myth, and unfortunately, Islamophobic sentiments are on the rise,” Chaudhry said.

Others in attendance at the meeting included Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick) and representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service.

Later, Cameron said he felt the forum was “very helpful” in opening the dialogue between police and the local Muslim community.

Sheraz Iftikhar, 38, of Manhattan, said he felt the forum answered many questions and was a good step toward building relations between the Muslim community and police.

“In the past, there were problems that came from agencies adopting policies without talking to the Muslim community,” Iftikhar said, pointing to the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. “But this is a great step to have an open forum.”

Dr. Safdar Chadda, 79, a New Hyde Park resident and founding president of the Westbury Islamic center, said he was pleased with the dialogue that emerged from the forum, adding: “We are all citizens of this country, and we all want to help to keep it safe.”

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