The Indonesian Consul General in New York, United States, Dr. Arifi Saiman, MA., reveals that currently Islam has become part of the society of the United States (US).
Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are not yet national or state holidays but the important holidays for Muslims in the US.
“Many Muslim employees are allowed to take time off to perform Eid and Eid al-Adha prayers. Muslim women who wear headscarves in the US are also common everyday, ”said Consul General Arifi in an exclusive written interview with MINA News Agency.
The Indonesian diplomat who also served in Canada, Senegal, Paris also explained the development of the first Islamic boarding school in New York which was initiated by an Indonesian citizen, Mr. Dr. Muhammad Syamsi Ali, Lc, MA.
In addition, he also explained the condition of Indonesian citizens in New York in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and what efforts the Consulate General of the Republic of Indonesia (KJRI) made for Indonesian citizens there.
New York is the most populous city in the United States, since the coronavirus pandemic or Covid-19, New York City has been the most affected area due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Consul General Arifi won a Doctor of Communication Science at Padjadjaran University, Bandung, with a dissertation on the role of Nahdlatul Ulama mediation in reducing conflict in Southern Thailand on July 17, 2013 with the title Cum Laude.
He has served as Head of the Center for the Study and Development of Policy for the Asia, Pacific and African Region, the Agency for Policy Studies and Development (BPPK) of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The following is an excerpt from the full interview:
MINA: How is the development of Islam in New York?
Consul General Arifi: Islam has long been a part of New York City, USA since the 1600s. Today, it is estimated that there are around 700 thousand to one million Muslims and 300 more mosques registered in New York City. Some of the major mosques in New York such as the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque and the Masjidi Hazrati Abu Bakr Siddique.
The development of Islam in New York City received significant attention after the events of 9/11. This is also a blessing in disguise, as many Americans want to know more about Islam.
Not all Americans view Islam as a terrorist religion that must be fought. Mass media and social media also play an important role in the development of Islam in New York City. The acceptance of Islam by the US society depends on the perspective they receive in mass media or social media.
The US society is an open society with differences because from the very beginning this country has been built by immigrants with a diversity of cultures, customs and habits. Therefore, the US society in general is very tolerant and open to Islam as they are open to adherents of other religions such as Christians and Jews.
Today, Islam has become part of US society. Although Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are not yet national or state holidays, the celebration of important Muslim holidays is well known in the US. Many Muslim employees are allowed to take time off to perform the Eid and Eid al-Adha prayers. Muslim women who wear the hijab in the US are also common everyday.
The US government guarantees protection for religious people before the law. As long as they do not violate the rules and obey existing provisions, such as paying taxes, there is no difference in treatment between Muslim communities and other religious communities.
Negative sentiment or discrimination is always there, but this happens not only among Muslims, but also with other communities. For example, incidents of racism against Chinese descendants in the US are considered to be the culprits or the source of the Covid-19.
Muslims are also heavily involved in the US politics. There are at least three Muslim women currently sitting in the House of Representatives, namely Andre Carson (Indiana), Ilhan Omar (Minnesota), and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan). They are promoted from the Democratic party. The Biden government has appointed a woman of Palestinian descent, Reema Dodin, as deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.
Pew Research (2018) estimates that 3.45 million or 1.1% of the US population are Muslim. It is projected that the Muslim population in the US will be the second largest after Christians. By 2050 it is projected that the number of Muslims in the US will reach around 8.1 million people or 2.1% of the total the US population. The Muslim population of New York State is the third largest in the US, after the states of Illinois and Virgnia.
MINA: What is the role of figures/ulema from Indonesia in New York in preaching Islam?
Consul General Arifi: Indonesian figures/scholars are an important part of the Indonesian community in New York City and usually affiliated with the mosque they lead. One example is the Al-Hikmah Mosque in Queens, New York, which is one of the Indonesian community mosques with a variety of activities.
Apart from holding fardhu prayers and Friday prayers, the mosque also holds various other routine activities, such as recitation, bazaar and other community activities.
There is also another mosques, the Jamaica Muslim Center which is led by an Indonesian Imam Mr. Dr. Muhammad Syamsi Ali, Lc, MA.
Because currently, the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting the city of New York, mosques are only open to the extent of performing fardhu prayers and Friday prayers by complying with the Covid-19 health protocol.
MINA: How is the development of the first Islamic boarding school in New York which is initiated by an Indonesian citizen, Mr. Dr. Muhammad Syamsi Ali, Lc, MA.?
Consul General Arifi: The construction of the Nur Inka Nusantara Madani Islamic boarding school was drivenby Dr. Muhammad Syamsi Ali, Lc, MA. The 7.4-hectare Islamic boarding school (pesantren) is located in the city of Moodus, Connecticut, about 2.5 hours drive from New York City to the northeast.We have visited the pesantren in 2019.
As of August 2020, there have been many activities carried out at this pesantren for both religious and educational activities, including summer boarding schools and sports competitions to commemorate Indonesia’s Independence Day.
MINA: How are the Islamic worship facilities at the UN Headquarters and its surroundings, given the number of Muslim diplomats/staff there?
Consul General Arifi: For compulsory prayers such as Dhuhr/Asr prayer, usually the UN diplomats perform prayers at the Dag Hammarskold Library room, which is located on the 3rd floor with a capacity of approximately 20 people. Diplomats can also return to their respective permanent mission offices.
For Friday prayers, the UN diplomats/staff use the East Lounge/Qatar Lounge facilities which are quite large and can accommodate a large number of worshipers, approximately 100-200 people.
In addition, around the UN complex there is also a mosque called the Islamic Society of Mid Manhattan, which is located at 55th Street or the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, located at 96th-97th Street, 3rd Avenue.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit New York, prayer facilities at the United Nations have been temporarily closed during the pandemic, while mosques remain open but are required to comply with Covid-19 health protocols.
MINA: The halal business is quite attractive in New York, but the dominance of products is still from non-Muslim countries in Latin America and Asia, not Indonesia. What is Indonesia’s effort to penetrate the halal market in New York?
Consul General Arifi: The extension of Indonesia’s status in the GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) program of the United States is an opportunity for Indonesia to increase the number of products exported to the US, including halal products.
Based on information from the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA), the halal food business will reach more than US $ 20 million dollars in 2020. There are 405 halal products that have been registered and spread in the US with IFANCA halal certification.
Although the market segment for halal products is still smaller than organic and kosher products, the food industry and interest in halal food products is increasing. The awareness of consuming halal food that is processed in accordance with Islamic law is increasingly high among the Muslim and non-Muslim communities of the United States (US).
Indonesian halal products are also promoted through the Halal Food exhibition and have also been sold in a number of major supermarkets in New York and online such as instant noodles, peanut snacks, herbal medicine, potato chips, sweet potatoes, cassava and taro, candy, biscuits, soy sauce and finished spices packaging.
The halal business is not only limited to the food industry, but also other industries such as cosmetics. PT. Mustika Ratu has exported its cosmetic products in 2019 to enter the United States market. To support marketing, PT. Mustika Ratu collaborates with local distributors of herbal medicines and beauty products. In addition, Martha Tilaar’s cosmetic products have also been marketed in the United States since 2013.
MINA: How is the condition of Indonesian citizens in New York in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and what is the effort made by the Indonesian Consulate General for Indonesian citizens there?
Consul General Arifi: In the current condition of Indonesian citizens in the work area of the Indonesian Consulate General in New York, as of September 30, 2020, the number of Indonesian citizens in the work area of the Indonesian Consulate General in New York recorded in the self-report database was 32,078, with details per state as follows: Maine 105, New Hampshire 1,575, Vermont 18, Massachusetts 1,506, Rhode Island 156, Connecticut 546, New Jersey 2,743, Delaware 150, Maryland 2,914, West Virginia 138, Virginia 2,655, Pennsylvania 7,764, New York 10,029, North Carolina 1,416, and South Carolina 363.
Meanwhile, the number of Indonesian citizens in the work area of the Indonesian Consulate General in New York who were confirmed positive for COVID-19 as of December 7, 2020 was 91 people, with details of 17 people dying, 63 people who have recovered, and 11 undergoing self-quarantine.
We note that the number of Indonesian citizens who have been exposed to COVID-19 above does not include Indonesians who may have been exposed to COVID-19, but have not reported it to the Indonesian Consulate General in New York.
In addition, we continue to do various efforts by the Indonesian Consulate General in handling COVID-19.
In order to help Indonesian citizens affected by Covid-19, the Indonesian Consulate General in New York has formed a Task Force for the Indonesian Consulate General in New York Cares which, among other things is tasked with distributing aid to Indonesian citizens affected by Covid-19.
In addition to establishing the COVID-19 Task Force, the Indonesian Consulate General also formed the WAG ‘KJRI New York Cares’ by means of interactive communication with Indonesian citizens in the work area of the Indonesian Consulate General in New York, regularly conveying appeals and press releases to Indonesian citizens regarding the development of the COVID-19 pandemic in the work area of the Indonesian Consulate General in New York, and set up five COVID-19 hotline numbers to serve Indonesian citizens who need assistance during the pandemic.
In addition, the Indonesian Consulate General in New York also assisted the process of repatriating Indonesian citizens who tested positive for COVID-19 after they were declared cured. The repatriated Indonesian citizens are those who are underprivileged and have no family in the United States are neglected.
The Consulate General also assisted the funeral or cremation of Indonesian citizens who died due to COVID-19. In addition to donation money for funerals or cremation for those with poor status, the Indonesian Consulate facilitates communication between the families of the deceased in Indonesia with the Funeral Home or with City Morgue.
The Indonesian Consulate General in New York also organizes a program to provide assistance to the Indonesian people in the work area of the Indonesian Consulate General in the form of logistical assistance, vitamins and health protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and hand sanitizers.
Assistance is provided to Indonesian citizens affected by COVID-19 in the work area of the Indonesian Consulate General in New York.
The provision of assistance is prioritized to three community groups, namely: a) Elderly Indonesian citizens who live alone; b) Indonesian citizens who have been exposed to COVID-19, including those undergoing self-quarantine; and c) Indonesian students/students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the Dharma Wanita Persatuan KJRI New York also plays an active role in helping Indonesian citizens affected by COVID-19 through the Dharma Wanita Persatuan (DWP) program of the Indonesian Consulate General in New York Cares.
In order to help Indonesian citizens who were economically affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indonesian Consulate General in collaboration with PERMIAS East Coast initiated the creation of an e-platform to help the lives of Indonesian citizens who were economically affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic by providing free digital booths as a virtual place of business for them. (R1/ RA-1 / RE-1 / P2 / R07 / R09)
Mi’raj News Agency (MINA)