SUNSET PARK – “This is basically a neighborhood community patrol on steroids,” said Noor Rabah of the new Muslim Community Patrol & Services, “and people are intimidated.”
Last November, neighbors in Sunset Park formed a new community patrol. Run by Muslims to serve both Muslim and non-Muslim communities in light of anti-muslim sentiments, it is modeled on the controversial Shomrim private security force that patrols the Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. However, it is the first security force we would have that unites around religion exclusively and welcomes believers from any ethnic background.
Muslim Community Patrol & Services (MCPS) was formed by Sami Uddin Razi and Noor Rabah, who both serve as the president and vice president of the organization, respectively, and it has national aspirations. They felt there was a need for such service considering the political climate and the fact that hate crimes have been on the rise across the country.
Hate crimes increased 17 percent in 2017 from 2016. According to an FBI report, in 2017 there were 1,679 offenses in which hate crimes were motivated by religious bias across the country. Of that number 18.7 percent were against Muslims. Hate crimes have also increased in NYC. An NYPD report looking at crimes committed in 2017 and 2018 found that though the overall number of hate crimes increased, those against Muslims have actually declined.
The report Bklyner obtained from the NYPD notes that there were 338 reported hate crimes in 2017, and in 2018, that number increased to 361. During the same time period reported crimes against Muslims decreased from 34 to 18.
Nevertheless, as long as crimes against Muslims exist, so will MCPS, founders assure us. “Every community should have its own patrol,” Rabah said, “because every community has its own beat, it has its own lingo, it has its own flow.”
The new non-profit organization offers a variety of services including patrolling (being the eyes and ears of the NYPD, calling dispatch), job training, counseling, elderly assistance, feeding the homeless, and youth mentorship. But the service that’s been the talk of the town is patrolling.
Once people on the internet saw the image of the patrol car a few months ago (and when the NY Post broke the story), many freaked out. Some asked if New Yorkers were “that stupid.” And some referred to it as “Sharia patrol.”
“The proof is in the pudding. Our work is going to be nothing different than what the Jewish community has been providing for their own which is good patrolling, good services, helping with family discourse and marital issues,” Rabah said. “People will always say something.”
The Jewish patrol service Rabah mentioned is none other than Shomrim. Shomrim is a neighborhood watch group with Jewish members, serving the Jewish communities across the city (and the world) that was established at a time when crime in the city was high and police response insufficient, and one can hardly make the same argument today.
In Brooklyn alone, there are separate units covering Flatbush, Boro Park, Williamsburg, and Crown Heights. While you’ll hear accolades from local cops at police precinct meetings – Shomrim help combat burglaries, vandalism, assault, anti-Semitic violence, and help locate missing people – the organization has not been without controversy.
Rabah says MCPS is planning on doing what the Shomrim does to help the community. So why do people have a problem with it?
“When it comes to Muslims, it seems like we have to bend over not only backward but break our backs so people can accept us,” Rabah said. “We’re past that phase already.” This is one way of asserting they belong.
While Shomrim is rooted both in religion and ethnicity, MCPS would be the first to be entirely based on religious affiliation. The Brooklyn Asian Safety Patrol is also an ethnic organization. But according to Mahwish Fathma, the executive director, that is not a problem. Islam is the organization’s uniting force.
“We decided to do a Muslim Patrol because we are Muslim before we are Pakistani or Arab or Bengali, etc.,” she said. “These ethnicities are good, so as long as it’s not dividing the Ummah (community). One of the many blessings of establishing a Muslim patrol is that it is a means of uniting the Ummah upon doing good.”
Rabah believes that MCPS does not need everybody’s approval to continue. It’s a community effort, he said.
“Although we’d like for everyone to be on the same page, we’re not here looking for anybody’s approval to do good work, the same way that no one looks for anybody’s approval to do good work,” Rabah said. “As Muslims, we understand that there is a little bit more work for us to do because that’s where we’ve been placed in society, but the work will definitely move forward.”
The money for the organization came from a few donors and as of now, MCPS has two cars already. The organization’s president, Sami Uddin Razi hoped that by the end of the year, they’ll have at least ten.
MCPS also hasn’t stated patrolling yet. Members received training on January 27 from a few members of the NYPD on how to patrol as professionally as possible. To note, MCPS is not officially sanctioned by the NYPD. Just like how the Shomrim isn’t sanctioned by the NYPD. Or how the Brooklyn Asian Safety Patrol isn’t sanctioned by the NYPD. Though when looking at the vehicles, one could easily mistake them for NYPD.
Working with the NYPD
“It should not be confused that this movement is something to eradicate or to substitute the NYPD,” Rabah said. “The NYPD is there to do its job. We’re just there to work on a community level. And when there are things that are out of our control, then, of course, we’re calling the NYPD. We understand the laws of the land and we are not overstepping our boundaries.”
According to Razi, MCPS does have the support of NYPD’s Muslim Officer’s Society, a fraternal organization within the NYPD. Bklyner reached out to the Muslim Officer’s Society but did not receive a response. Razi noted that both are two entirely different things.
“The Muslim Officer’s Society has officers that have a certain agenda. They don’t get their feet on the ground to do this type of patrol. Do they support it? Yes, they support it. But at the same time, to what capacity do they get involved?”
Rabah reiterated again that though it’s amazing to have everyone’s support, it is not necessary as long as they are doing good work. And people are always going to say something, whether it’s good or bad. To that, he told the story of a father, a son, and a horse.
“So the father and the son are walking into town, and the father decides to go on top of the horse first and the son would walk. When they’re coming through town, people start to complain, ‘Oh, look at the father, he has no mercy for his son.’ So, they go to the next town and switch positions. There, people say, ‘Look at the son, he has no respect for his father.’ And then they go to a third town and decide that none of them would sit on the horse. They go and people say, ‘Look at these two morons, they have a riding animal and none of them are using it.'”
“People are always going to say something, right?” Rabah said. “So let’s show the work. Let’s do the good work. Good work is recognized universally. People are worried. Fear of the unknown. And we can’t control that. All we can control is the work that we do now and that we are going to do in the future, Inshallah (God willing).”
Currently, there are 35 volunteers that are registered with MCPS. They are hoping for the number to double by next week. Members include two retired NYPD officers, a current Homeland Security officer, current correctional officers, current chaplains, and those who’ve served in the military.
“It’s not like we’re going in there with brute force. We’re going in there with knowledge, compassion, training, and wisdom,” Rabah said.
Though MCPS has been critiqued many times on social media (just search the name), Council Member Carlos Menchaca is very excited about the volunteer organization.
“We know that community patrols benefit communities immensely. Because volunteers are from the communities they patrol, they have a credibility that makes them more approachable, more trustworthy, and more capable, in some instances, of resolving disputes and issues,” Menchaca said. “The NYPD has long recognized how beneficial it is to partner with these organizations since, through them, they can build trust with communities too.”
“The Brooklyn Asian Safety Patrol got its start in Sunset Park, and Shomrim, a volunteer Jewish watch group, has been around for some time in Borough Park as well. As a representative of both neighborhoods, the Council Member sees no reason why a patrol cannot exist for and by the Muslim community, so long as volunteers go through the same training as other volunteer organizations and build relationships with every precinct,” his office added in a statement.
Though community patrol groups do have the power to do a citizen arrest, MCPS will steer away from it.
“We’re trying to stay away from that because there’s just too much that will come with it as Muslims and as a Muslim organization,” Rabah said.
And since it is a Muslim-run organization, they are only looking for Muslim volunteers — though they reiterate that their services are not only limited to Muslims. MCPS also has and is currently looking for, volunteers that are women.
“This table is open for anybody that wants to do good work. It’s the same way Shomrim is a Jewish organization with Jewish individuals that are providing good work. It’s not Jewish work, it’s good work.”
Every Friday, MCPS feeds the homeless. Last week, members went to the streets of Manhattan, inside subway stations, and outside St. Francis of Assisi Church to give away food and jackets. Feeding the homeless, taking care of the needy, and helping women and children is something that Islam always talks about, Rabah explained.
“We’re doing Dawah through action; we’re teaching people about Islam instead of just talking about it,” he said. “Although we know as Muslims, that trying to capture things on TV or social media is not what we seek. But at the same time, this is not about showcasing our work for acceptance, rather this is showcasing our work for the sake of Dawah, teaching about Islam. Especially since the media is always trying to show a negative image of Islam.”
“We live in a time where Islam is not only considered the ‘underdog’ but it’s considered by many to be evil in the community,” Rabah said. “So we are obligated to teach people about Islam through our actions.”
Community activist and organizer Kashif Hussain said he hopes the best for MCPS.
“This is our way of reaching out and helping the community,” he said. “I wish them well and hope the volunteers of MCP can deliver.”
Balady Halal Foods is a Middle Eastern grocery store and butchery located in Bay Ridge at 7128 Fifth Avenue. Bklyner spoke to its manager, Mosa, who did not want his full name used but had kind words about MCPS and said he could understand why people may be hesitant.
“I think its good we have a Muslim patrol organization that would benefit the community as a whole,” he said. “Having the word ‘Muslim’ attached to the patrol might be frightening because they are not familiar with the term in a good sense. They have a bad perspective because of what they see in media.”
“It’s an uphill battle they’ll have to go through of how they represent themselves and win the hearts of the community,” he said. He mentioned that having a Muslim patrol isn’t a necessity in Bay Ridge.
“I don’t believe there are any direct threats happening for Muslims in Bay Ridge. I don’t believe it’s necessary. I do think it’s an added benefit for the community. It’s good to have. If it wasn’t around, things would continue to normal.”
One change he would make would be to take out the word “Muslim,” so people are not alienated, he said, though he understands MCPS is catering to everyone.
MCPS will be starting patrolling and services in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, because of the vibrant Muslim communities. In the future, they plan on serving Kensington, Brighton Beach, Coney Island Ave, Bensonhurst, and even across the country. Currently, there is not a Bay Ridge or Sunset Park Shomrim, so overlap between the two volunteer organizations is not an issue. But some may wonder if they’ll overlap with Shomrim’s patrolling areas in the future. Fathma does not think that will be a problem because MCPS would be filling a void for those that need Islamic services.
“Let’s not forget that our Jewish brothers and Sisters have Shabbat, so from the sunset of Friday until the sunset of Saturday, we will extend and offer our help and patrol to relieve them and assist them.”
“We’re going to be helping everybody, but of course we’re going to be looking out for our own brothers and sisters. As it is our brothers and sisters who are being shot and killed. It is our sisters whose hijabs are being burnt, whose children are being pushed onto the train tracks,” Rabah said. “But that doesn’t mean if we’re driving and we see somebody that doesn’t ‘look’ Muslim, that we won’t help.”
When asked if a Muslim woman should feel safer having MCPS around, Rabah said, “Respectfully, a Muslim should feel safe because they are a Muslim and Allah is taking care of them and not a guy in the car. Not a guy with a car and two eyes and two hands, but Allah who control the heavens and earth. She should feel safe for that.”
“But we do have to tie our camels as well. We do have to do our part. There is pride in providing these services to our brothers and sisters so they can feel more connected and united.”
Long story short, MCPS is not trying to enforce Sharia Law, it is not trying to overstep the NYPD’s boundaries, and it is not planning on quitting. They are like every other community patrol organization in the city, Rabah said. The only difference? They are Muslim.
“For the community, we are their brothers and sisters,” Rabah said. “For the NYPD, we are their eyes and ears.”
To find out more information about MCPS or to become a member, check out their website linked here.