New York, United States – The 35th annual Muslim Day Parade marched down New York’s Madison Avenue on Sunday afternoon, with a strong focus on Kashmir and Muslim unity.
Organisers estimated that nearly 3,000 people attended the parade, which celebrated Muslim Americans of different heritage.
“The Muslim Day Parade’s goal has been to celebrate all the accomplishments, highlight the achievements, show the vibrant cultures and the diversity that is embellished in our religion,” Farris Fayyaz, chairman of the parade, told Al Jazeera.
Adams Fofana, from Ivory Coast, who has been attending the parade for six years, said he loves coming here because it is a reminder of the diversity of the Muslim community. “Every time we come here, I see the different ways about the Muslim [communities],” he said.
“I love it; even the clothing like a hat, when I see an Arabian hat or an African hat, it’s a lot of differences, but I love it.”
Fofana’s sentiments resonated with others at the protest who said they come here for the unification of the diverse Muslim communities coming from South Asia, Indonesia and Africa, among others.
“I was born right after 9/11 so growing up as a kid, that was all around me, that was all that I knew about Muslim Americans in this country,” Rida Khan, 17, said as she marched down the street.
“So I just think it’s important for us to come together and to show each other love and support, because it’s rare to find moments like that here.”
Spirit of unity
Many who marched nearly 12 blocks down Madison Avenue spoke out against Islamophobia as well as oppression of Muslim communities – from Indian-administered Kashmir to the United States.
“This year we’re focusing on Kashmir because that is a great concern,” Fayyaz said. “Unfortunately, the international community for the most part is quiet and are just appeasing the Indian government.”
Amna Akhoon, who was attending to protest against the current crisis in Kashmir, says the parade gives the opportunity for non-Muslims to see the diversity of Muslim Americans, and can help undo the hate spewed under the current administration.
“In New York especially, there’s a huge diversity where there’s all kinds of people,” she said. “When other groups don’t know about a specific Muslim community, then they create assumptions and hate … which is why I think it’s so important to have a parade like this where they can see what we stand for.”
Numerous protesters were seen carrying placards calling for the human rights of Kashmiris to be restored and calling out Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s actions.
This was especially crucial as the march, which began after Dhuhr prayers on Sunday at 1pm in New York, coincided with Modi’s arrival to the US, where he was greeted at a rally in Houston, Texas, attended by nearly 50,000 Indian Americans.
While Kashmiris’ rights were at the forefront of the issue, it is intricately linked to the fear many Muslims continue to have under the current US administration, given the leaders of both countries are known for their anti-Muslim stances.
At the Houston rally, also attended by US President Donald Trump, Modi explicitly celebrated Trump’s “make America great again” campaign.
“Trump [is] no good not for just Muslims, he’s no good for a lot of diverse communities in America,” said Akhoon, noting the president’s policies against the Latino and African American communities.
“The things that he’s been saying is unacceptable so this parade stands for unity, let’s all other people know, the officials who are making rules, [that] we exist here too, we want peace as well, we want to live just how everybody else wants to live – we want the American dream too.”
Opportunity for Muslims
Meanwhile, others said they feel that this parade is an opportunity for Muslim Americans to show up despite a series of attacks from the Trump administration, including a ban on Muslim entry into the US.
Many at the parade said they began attending it three years ago, which coincided with Trump’s campaign trail which he built on negative rhetoric around the Hispanic community, immigrants, and Muslims.
“It’s important for American Muslims not to cower into the shadows and to come out as one united community and to show not only New York but the world that we exist and we’re not going anywhere,” Ahmed Mohamed, litigation director of Council of American Islamic Relations in New York, told Al Jazeera.
“The current political climate motivates us, motivates others to rally for the causes that are important to us.”
Akhoon, who was at the rally carrying a placard that read “Modi is a terrorist”, said she believes this parade also gives the opportunity to non-Muslims to learn about the community.
“We want to send our kids to school and not be hated and not be shown that they’re different, so this parade kind of sends [that] message,” she said.
“I see a lot of [non-Muslims] standing here, they are trying to understand [us], and I love that about this parade. It’s teaching them something about us.”