Tourist Grayson Davidson had never met a Muslim before, and the 18-year-old nursing student was wondering about Islam’s stance on jihad and terrorism.
She got answers about the religion of 1.6 billion from two of its adherents on Saturday afternoon, when she and her mother walked past the New York City chapter of National #MeetaMuslim Day, a nationwide outreach effort meant to encourage people to ask anything about Islam.
The group discussed President Donald Trump’s recent executive order and his campaign promise of “extreme vetting.” Davidson also asked about jihad, and “if terrorists were using that as an excuse . . . for what they’re doing.”
Asad Bajwa of Pennsylvania, one of the Muslims greeting passersby, said there is no religious justification for violent jihadi terrorism.
“I was born and raised a Muslim, he was born and raised a Muslim,” he said, gesturing to a fellow #AskaMuslim volunteer. “We’ve never heard of it.”
The event, which took place in roughly 100 locations across 50 cities, was hosted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, a group for Muslim men and boys. Organizers said it aims to fight what they say is increased animus toward Muslims and a spike in hate crimes.
Saturday’s event comes days after Trump signed a new executive order banning citizens from six Muslim-majority nations for 90 days, after a prior version was mired in court challenges.
The #AskAMuslim men — a hashtag the group adopted — handed out pamphlets: “True Islam and the Extremists,” which said that the religion “wholly Rejects all forms of Terrorism,” “believes in Non-Violent Jihad of the self and of the pen” and “Loyalty to your Country of residence.”
The Ahmadi are a minority sect considered heretical by some conservative Muslims.
On Long Island, a group of about a dozen members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Mosque in Amityville braved the frigid wind to stand at Route 110 and Union Avenue there.
Boys wearing #MeetAMuslim T-shirts over their coats handed out informational fliers to a few passersby and rubbed their hands to keep warm. They joked about relocating somewhere warmer, such as a nearby Burger King or Five Guys.
The group had hoped to hand out 3,000 fliers, knock on doors and answer questions for those who don’t know much about Islam, he said.
“Our religion is a peaceful one,” said Farmingdale resident Masroor Ahmed, 13. “I get bullied at school a lot for my religion. I want that to end.”
The cold seemed to keep pedestrians indoors, however. The group originally planned to stay three hours but cut down their time and moved to a nearby grocery store because of the weather.
Despite the freezing temperatures, Zeshan Hamid, the group’s national vice president, said it was important for the mosque and the children in particular to be present.
“We might not stay for hours, but I think it’s inspirational because we believe in our message,” Hamid, of Miller Place, said. “It’s easy to stand when it’s warm out.”
The Times Square group ultimately had better luck.
“I’m with you!” said one red-coated tourist-bus hawker there, shaking hands with local organizer Salaam Bhatti, a lawyer from Queens Village and former Bay Shore resident.
“Do you think Americans are scared of Muslims?” asked Joschi Schwarz, 48, a yoga instructor originally from Germany who lives in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.
“Yeah, they’re scared of what they don’t know,” Bhatti said.