Confronting Islamophobia in America Today

February 5, 2016
Last Tuesday, foundation colleagues, government officials, and community leaders came together for an urgent convening to address the recent escalation of anti-Muslim rhetoric that is affecting New York’s Muslim community. Co-sponsored by the Ford Foundation, the New York Community Trust , Philanthropy New York, and the New York Foundation, Confronting Islamophobia in America Today was a six-hour event that left participants with a better understanding of the Muslim, Arab, and South-Asian communities in the New York region. It was clear that Arab, Muslim, and South-Asian community groups need an increased capacity and not only when crises occur.

The news media provides a platform for people who sow fear by inflating the threat posed by extremists, but rarely do we hear how the proliferation of this narrative has escalated hate against Muslim-Americans. This convening of allies and stakeholders was an example of constructive, solutions-oriented discussion, focused on understanding the nuances within the Muslim community and how resources can be directed in support.


Nisha Agarwal is a public interest lawyer and leading voice in immigration reform at the local and national level. Her tenure as commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) is marked by her entrepreneurial drive and proven record of enacting pro-immigrant legislation.


Fahd Ahmed, executive director of DRUM South Asian Organizing Center, came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant from Pakistan in 1991. He has been a grassroots organizer on the issues of racial profiling, immigrant justice, police accountability, and national security over the last 13 years, and is a graduate of the City University of New York School of Law.


Afreen Alam is the executive director of Chhaya CDC, a leading nonprofit serving South Asians in New York City, focusing on issues of affordable housing, asset building and community organizing, and advocacy. Prior to Chhaya, she served as director of Housing and Community Development at the National Urban League.


Lena Alhusseini was appointed executive director of the Arab-American Family Support Center in 2006, having previously served with global organizations such as USAID, UNICEF, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.


Hebh Jamal is a 16-year-old junior at Beacon High School. She is a member of the Muslim American Society and the Arab American Association of New York, and has been featured in the New York Times. She is currently working with the organization IntegrateNYC4Me in an effort to diversify New York City schools.


Aber Kawas is a youth organizer at the Arab American Association of New York. She graduated in 2014 from the City College of New York’s International Studies Program with a concentration in Latin American studies.


Imam Souleimane Konaté has been the head of the Masjid al-Aqsa mosque in Harlem for over a decade. He is also general secretary of the Council of African Imams and vice president of Harlem Islamic Leadership Council.


Imam Khalid Latif is the university chaplain for New York University, executive director of the Islamic Center at NYU, and a chaplain for the New York City Police Department.


Besheer Mohamed is a senior researcher at Pew Research Center. He is involved in the design and implementation of many of the center’s domestic religion polls. He specializes in studying religious minorities in the US, with a specific focus on Muslim Americans.


Jorge I. Montalvo created and leads the New York State Office for New Americans and developed the state’s Opportunity Agenda to ensure that those living in poverty are included in the state’s economic revitalization. He currently serves in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration as deputy secretary of state for Economic Opportunity.


Robina Niaz was born and raised in Pakistan and migrated to the United States in 1990. She is the founder and executive director of Turning Point for Women and Families, the first nonprofit to address domestic violence in New York City’s Muslim community.


Joseph J. Salvo is director of the Population Division at the New York City Department of City Planning. The Population Division serves as the city’s in-house demographic consultant, providing expertise for a whole host of applications involving assessments of need, program planning and targeting, and policy formulation.


Linda Sarsour is executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and co-founder of the first Muslim online organizing platform, MPower Change. Known for building bridges across issues and racial, ethnic, and faith communities, she has been at the forefront of major civil rights campaigns, including calling for an end to unwarranted surveillance of New York’s Muslim communities and working to reform the New York City Police Department and the criminal justice system.

Sarah Sayeed is a senior advisor in the Community Affairs Unit of the Office of the Mayor of New York City. She previously worked at the Interfaith Center of New York, conducting the Rabbi Marshall T. Meyer Retreats for Social Justice as well as Catholic-Muslim dialogue and joint social service projects.


Imam Al-Hajj Talib ’Abdur-Rashid is the religious and spiritual leader of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem and former president of the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York. He serves as vice president of the Muslim Alliance in North America.



Margaret Hempel leads the Ford Foundation’s Gender, Racial, and Ethnic Justice team, working to advance the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people; reduce discrimination based on gender, sexual, or HIV/AIDS status; and ensure that the priorities and leadership of women and young people who face multiple forms of social, economic, and political exclusion are central to the advancement of policies and programs for sexuality and reproductive health and rights. Her team has made grants in Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, China, Indonesia, India, and the US. She previously served as vice president for programs at both the American Jewish World Service and the Ms. Foundation for Women.

Farhana Khera is the president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy and educational organization. Founded by Khera and a group of American Muslim lawyers and policy experts, Muslim Advocates works on the front lines of civil rights to protect freedom for Americans of all faiths. Khera has received numerous honors, including the Lives of Commitment Award by the Auburn Theological Seminary, the Unity Award by the Minority Bar Coalition of San Francisco, and the Dr. Betty Shabazz Recognition Award by Women In Islam. She holds a BA from Wellesley College and a JD from Cornell Law School.

Fatima Shama is a born-and-raised New Yorker who has worked with New York City’s children and families her entire career. She started her work in the public sector with the Arab-American Family Support Center, moving on to the Bronx to work with WHEDco (the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation), then to work with CAMBA, leading the Greater Brooklyn Health Coalition. In 2014, she joined the senior team at Maimonides Medical Center, and she is now executive director of the Fresh Air Fund. Shama holds a BA from the State University of New York at Binghamton and an MPA from the executive program at Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs. Shama is a New York Foundation trustee.

Darren Walker is the Ford Foundation’s 10th president. A beneficiary and staunch advocate of the civil rights movement, his connection to the foundation and its mission has spanned his entire life. He was a member of Head Start’s inaugural class in 1965 and, later, Pell grants helped finance his college and law school education at the University of Texas. Both programs were Ford-funded pilot initiatives. After a decade on Wall Street, Walker became COO of Harlem’s Abyssinian Development Corporation, a Ford grantee. He then joined the Rockefeller Foundation, rising to vice president and overseeing all domestic and international programs. He became a Ford vice president in 2010—responsible for Education, Creativity, and Free Expression, as well as the foundation’s four Africa offices—and was appointed president in 2013. Walker serves on the boards of Carnegie Hall, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, New York City Ballet, and the Arcus Foundation, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.



Joseph Salvo, Department of City Planning [email protected]
Besheer Mohamed, Pew Research Center [email protected]
Farhana Khera, Muslim Advocates [email protected]
Fahd Ahmed, DESIS Rising Up and Moving [email protected]
Linda Sarsour, Arab American Association of NY [email protected]
Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood [email protected]
Imam Souleimane Konaté, Masjid Aqsa Mosque [email protected]
Shireen Zaman, Proteus Fund [email protected]
Nisha Agarwal, Mayors Office of Immigrant Affairs [email protected]
Sarah Sayeed, Office of the Mayor, Community Affairs Unit [email protected]
Jorge Montalvo, NYS Office of New Americans [email protected]
Fatima Shama, Fresh Air Fund [email protected]
Lena Alhusseini, Arab American Family Support Center [email protected]
Afreen Alam, Chhaya CDC [email protected]
Robina Niaz, Turning Point for Women and Families [email protected]

Photos by Kenny Polyak