By Rozina Ali
Back when Donald Trump was a Presidential candidate, he said, “I think Islam hates us,” and called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” The realities of office reined him in somewhat, and in January of 2017 he signed an order to block the entry of people from only select Muslim-majority countries. (The Supreme Court upheld the policy last month.) What bothers Katherine Merriman, a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is that Trump misses the fact that Islam is already part of America’s history. For the past four years, Merriman has been giving Muslim-history tours of Trump’s home town, focussing on Harlem. “There are roughly three hundred mosques in New York City,” she said the other day. “New York is one of the most, if not the most, diverse Muslim cities in the world. There is no such thing as a ‘Muslim world’ somewhere else.”
Merriman was raised Irish Catholic, in Westchester, and often visited Washington Heights, where her father grew up. She became interested in Islam after 9/11, when she started taking philosophy and religion classes in college. The tours began in 2014, when a friend asked her to speak with a group of visiting college students, members of the Ismaili branch of Islam. Merriman had been researching the African-American Muslim diaspora, and she riffled through her notes. “A map appeared before me,” she recalled. She took the students around Harlem, and eventually created a Facebook event page, called Muslim History Tour NYC. In three days, she received more than three hundred R.S.V.P.s.
Merriman’s free tours happen about five times a year, whenever she can fly up from North Carolina. On a recent windy Sunday morning, about fifteen people assembled near the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., State Office Building, on 125th Street. They came from Harlem, Crown Heights, and Philadelphia. Trevor Stevens, a high-school physics teacher, chatted with Marco Ramirez, an academic, about another tour, a literary crawl through the West Village. “I heard there’s one in midtown, too,” Ramirez said.
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