MIDWOOD – Umber Nisar, the Muslim woman who was assaulted three days ago, sat on a chair facing the cameras. She was fidgeting with her hands and occasionally looked up, her eyes were filled with tears, but she did not cry. “I am still very scared,” she said.
Yesterday evening, community members, leaders, and Council Member Chaim Deutsch took over 1001 Newkirk Avenue, the home of Pakistani American Youth Society (PAYS). Nisar sat in front of a table. Her community, literally, stood behind her.
“It was just a regular day,” Nisar began, recounting her assault by a stranger outside her home last weekend. You can view the story and our interview with Nisar over here.
“I am a proud American Muslim,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of love throughout my life in this country. What just happened, it was shocking for me. I never expected anything like that in this neighborhood especially.”
The Pakistani-American community is grateful that Nisar decided to report the crime and speak out against what happened to her. Community organizer Ahsan Chughtai said that doesn’t usually happen. He said women from countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Egypt come from a place where it isn’t culturally appropriate for them to speak out. He said he’s proud that Nisar was able to do so.
“Majority of the times what happens is crimes like this don’t get reported,” he said. “People don’t want to come out and say how they feel because of repercussions, because they’re afraid they might get a backlash or they’re afraid that somebody else is going to do something worse. Thank God this sister is out here voicing her opinion.”
Nisar said she decided to speak out because she thought of her own daughter, her sister, her mother, and her neighbors.
“Most of the time we don’t say anything, we just ignore it,” she said. “But it’s not supposed to be like this. We’re supposed to raise our voice, say something.”
The Pakistani community in Midwood has been anything but silent this year. Just last month, the Coney Island Avenue strip between Avenue’s C and H was co-named “Muhammad Ali Jinnah Way,” after the founder of Pakistan.
“Over the years, the community has tremendously grown,” Pakistani American Youth Organization president Waqil Ahmed told us last month. “The street co-naming is going to bring the community closer, strengthen relationships within other ethnicities.”
And Ahmed was right. Just last week, the community and elected officials got together outside the neighborhood’s Makki Masjid to stand with the victims of the New Zealand massacre.
“Here in NYC, we have tolerance and we’re supposed to have tolerance,” Council Member Chaim Deutsch said yesterday. “No one should be afraid to walk on our streets. When the Jewish community and the Muslim community are working together… no one will defeat us.”
Community organizer Kashif Hussain said it was important to speak out because what happened to Nisar was unacceptable.
“She could have been anybody’s wife, anybody’s daughter, anybody’s sister,” he said. “The community is on edge right now. By her coming out, she is encouraging everybody who may have experienced hate crimes to step out and talk about it.”
“Women are the hidden energy of our community and given the right environment and platform they can actually lead our communities,” he said. “It is important for Muslim women to report any sorts of crime because their actions bring courage and strength to take a major step toward helping themselves.”
Hussain said Nisar is now an image of bravery and courage for thousands of Muslim women. He said men need to understand how important it is to have empowered women in their communities.
But, despite raising her voice, Nisar is still afraid. Yesterday, she had a doctor’s appointment two blocks away from her house. She said she was walking and kept looking around, feeling paranoid. “Was someone following me?” she asked.
Nisar’s 19-year-old son Mohammed Ashraf told Bklyner that he is proud of his mom for staying strong.
“I love my mom more than anybody in this world,” the thin young man with glasses said. “When I hear of her being hurt and feeling helpless, it just shatters my mind.”
Ashraf said he wonders if things would have been different if he were there with his mom. He said he wonders if things would have been different if the massacre in New Zealand didn’t occur, because “things like that have ways to inspire,” he said.
“For me, this stuff has happened before. I’ve been called ‘terrorist’ by random people since I was a teenager,” he said. “I’ve always feared for my sister, my mom, my aunts… they all wear the hijab. I fear for them all the time.”
Though Nisar is still afraid, she is happy that she is not alone. She said she’s glad to know there are people who can support her: her friends, her family, and her community. She said she’s a very proud Muslim.
“Sister Umber, you are not alone. Your community is with you,” Chughtai said. “I promise you, your brothers and sisters here will stand with you always.”