American identity = Islamic identity: Imam Shamsi Ali

New York City – one of the largest urban capitals of the world.  It was my first time properly staying in New York City for such a long time. I so quickly found myself enjoying the ‘New-York-girl-life’ who got lost in exploring fall fashion, wide range of ethnic cuisines, and of course, riding in cabs and subways. I don’t think there was ever a moment when I took a walk in the park without overhearing a dozen different languages spoken from numerous parts of the world. With 36% of the population born outside of the United States, New York City symbolized the world as a global village.  Right at the center of the city’s tall skyscrapers stood a minaret and a dome. This was the Islamic Cultural Center located on 96th and 3rd avenue. This mosque enhanced the spirit of New York City when around 4,000 Muslims from all over the world prostrated under one roof for Friday prayers.


We were welcomed at the mosque by an Indonesian born Imam, Imam Shamsi Ali. Imam Ali was born and raised in Indonesia. He then lived in Pakistan for several years and was appointed as the Khateeb of the largest mosque in Pakistan known as the Shah Faisal Mosque. He then moved to the United States to get higher education and currently works for the United Nations. According to New York Magazine, he is one of the most influential religious figures in New York City.

Dressed in traditional Indonesian attire, Imam gave us a tour of the mosque and described its symbolic architecture. After that he took us inside and allowed us to proceed with an interview. As our usual interviews, we began with the question of American identity. Imam Ali had a very interesting answer to that question. He believed American identity to be a mirror image of what Muslim identity should be according to the Islamic Law, known as the Sharia. He said that the core American ideals, such as freedom, justice, equality and democracy, are very Islamic in nature. After the Prophet Muhammad, Imam then described Martin Luther King as one of his greatest role models because he stood for peace and justice.

In a country where the media constantly portrays Islam to be incompatible with the current world, it was refreshing to hear the Imam of the largest mosque, located in the heart of America, to say something so hopeful. It relieves so much pain from the struggle when you know you are not too different from others, instead, you are fighting for the same cause. After all, I was just like the rest of the girls walking down New York City, who loves fashion, food, going for a run in the park – why make me look so different? 

Madeeha Hameed


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