News Top Stories

In Pittsburgh, Muslims are eager to join Jews in fight against immigrant hate

Stores in Squirrel Hill display signs of solidarity Nov. 2, 2018, in the wake of the Tree of Life shooting. The posters say: “Our hearts cry for Shalom.” RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

PITTSBURGH (RNS) — At the end of Jummah prayers at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh on Friday (Nov. 2), its leaders made an unusual request: Go attend Friday night services at a synagogue near you.

The request came an hour before the funeral of 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, the last of those killed at Tree of Life synagogue to be buried, and as the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill was readying for its first Shabbat after 11 of the synagogue’s congregants died in an anti-Semitic shooting spree last Saturday (Oct. 27).

A man prays on Nov. 2, 2018, at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

Politically, American Jews and Muslims have their differences, especially on the issue of Palestinian statehood, but here in Pittsburgh, the two faith groups have cultivated a strong and mutually supportive relationship, one that precedes the terrorist strikes of 9/11.

These days, they also share a common foe: people who demonize immigrants, such as Robert Bowers, the man accused of storming the synagogue with a semi-automatic weapon and shooting indiscriminately.

Bowers was particularly incensed by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, reportedly posting on social media, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.” He was apparently referring to Muslims. HIAS has taken pride in resettling mostly Muslim refugees from war-torn Syria.

Muslims, like many Jews, understand that a person like Bowers could strike at their faith community, too.

“You go half an hour this way or that way, it’s a different country,” said Mizanoor Biswas, chair of the board of directors of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. “Immigrant sentiment is very raw. I don’t want to talk politics, but the seed is there. It’s spewing all over.”

For Jews, who are themselves mostly children or grandchildren of immigrants, growing nativism is a serious concern.

“The Jewish story in America is one of the most successful stories of immigration, ever,” said Rabbi Jamie Gibson of Temple Sinai, a large Reform congregation in Squirrel Hill. “People came to this country and often lived in poverty in the first generation but worked very hard to achieve what used to be called the American dream. We do not want that dream all to ourselves.”

Many here in Pittsburgh have noted that the same raw immigrant sentiment was apparently shared by Cesar Sayoc, the Florida man accused of mailing a pipe bomb to George Soros, a Jewish hedge-fund manager turned global philanthropist who was born in Hungary. President Trump’s calling Hispanic immigrants “rapists” and “animals” hits hard in Jewish communities like Squirrel Hill, where the elders especially remember how Jews were taunted in Nazi Germany.

Imam Amro Elagwalli confers with board member Muhammed Haq, left, and Mizanoor Biswas, right, on Nov. 2, 2018, at the entrance to the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. The three urged Muslims to attend Friday night services at synagogues across the city to show solidarity with Jews. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

Meanwhile, this week’s funerals have been held as thousands of active-duty soldiers are being sent to the U.S. border with Mexico to bar the efforts of a Central American migrant caravan to seek asylum in the United States.

“There’s this sadness and anger toward the president who keeps pouring oil on the fire,” said Jacob Naveh, an educator who has lived in Squirrel Hill since 1969.

Bowers himself is alleged to have been motivated in part by anti-Semitic agitators who contend that Jews — or at least some prominent Jews like Soros — are behind an effort to replace native-born whites with immigrants.

Muslims, no less attuned to the anti-immigrant rhetoric, are taking note of the rising hysteria and working hard to combat it. They were among the groups to raise the most money for victims of the Pittsburgh Jewish community. To date, the Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue campaign has raised more than $232,000.

Wasi Mohamed, the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh executive director, went beyond a pitch for dollars.

“We just want to know what you need,” he told a crowd at a vigil honoring the lives of the shooting victims. “If it’s more money, let us know. If it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know — we’ll be there….  If you just need somebody to come to the grocery store because you don’t feel safe in this city, we’ll be there and I’m sure everybody in the room would say the same thing. We’re here for the community.”

Muslims pray Jummah prayers Nov. 2, 2018, at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. RNS photo by Yonat Shimron

Muhammed Haq, another Muslim center board member, said the beauty of America is that it brings different faith groups together.

“It’s interesting how many nationalities I’ve met here that I would never have met in any other nation on earth,” said Haq, who planned to attend a Friday night service at Rodeph Shalom, a Reform synagogue in Pittsburgh. “There are 48 nationalities in this mosque. I can’t travel to all those countries in my lifetime. But here in Allegheny County I can see the beautiful coming together of different cultures and religions.

“That’s what faith does,” Haq said. “Faith unites us; politics often divide us.”

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.


Click here to post a comment

  • Thanks for reporting on this angle and development from the Pittsburg tragedy. Some things are sweet and lovely. This is one of them.

  • White genocide = neo nazis are incels.

    Roy, it’s not racism minorities and Jews keeping you from making with white womenfolk. It’s your personality.

  • then, Roy, stop shooting yourself in the foot and other bodily parts . your rhetoric endangers only you .

  • the only major genocides of the last 100 years have been of white europeans killing other white europeans . love your ancestors all you want . but they may have been the problem .

    to turn that on its head and to suggest that people who want to come to this country for our freedom, for our education, to be able to contribute to our economy and to pay our taxes, and to live peaceable lives, well, all that is simply nonsensical rhetoric on your part .

  • trying to change the subject with the misinformation that ford and lindbergh had about europe is again an example of your use of nonsense to confuse .

    add the great soviet famine to the discussion . it only emphasizes my point . white on white violence has been the worse racial violence of the last century .

  • You brought up the fratricidal wars of ww1 and ww2. So…I didn’t change the subject.

    Have you read “The International Jew”? You should if you want to be an honest broker of truth.

    I would recommend Nesta Webster’s works as well if you are honest.

    Ironic you call the Holodomor a “famine”. As if it was ‘natural’. You just exposed yourself moresteps.

    white on white violence has been the worse racial violence of the last century

    Agreed. And who is responsible?

    Read — “For My Legionares” by Corneliu Zelea Codreanu

    But you won’t…………the Truth Fears No Investigation.

  • the subject you originally introduced was fearmongering about whites being overwhelmed by others . now you are going down the rabbit hole of commies and of jews .

    cuz you can’t say anything worthwhile about your original statement : hobs all hot air spinning around the room like an unsealed balloon .

  • You mean………………”going down the Truth hole”.

    The Truth Fears NO Investigation.

    “Whites NOT being overwhelmed by others”………..


    Go do a survey of Elementary School Yearbooks. A picture says a thousand words.

    I had to flee Atlanta Georgia and settled in the PNW. Even in the PNW, all one has to do is take a survey of Elementary School Yearbooks.

    They say Whites will be a Minority in their own Nation by 2040. But I’ll bet you say this is a rabbit hole. What a joke.

  • i did not assign blame . i simply noted that the main genocide of the past century is white on white .

    i am intrigued that the more worked up you get the more nazi reference items come up in your links .

  • When you use the derogatory term “n.azi”………are you referring to the Great Men and Women of the NSDAP?

  • Both are important and both are tied together.
    The only Race who doesn’t care about race is…………………the White Race.

  • when i use the term nazi i am using the term used in germany in the 1930s to briefly say “nationalsozialist” . that the term is now derogatory speaks to the history of those who operated under its banner .

  • No………………… speaks to those who caused the whole problem in the first place!

    “Germany Must Perish” by Theodore Kaufmann

  • many created the problems moving into the depression and then world war ii . but only the nazi’s could have taken it the the worst possible end . a disaster beyond measure .

  • when you make a serious comment i will make a serious response . short of that i will make fun of your barely controlled hysteria about race .

  • If you actually use your brain for ‘thinking’ you will discover that the moniker ‘n.azi’ was a jewish creation.

    The Great men and women of the NSDAP never called themselves ‘n.azi’.

    I’ll bet you believe “Dresden” was ‘just’. You are one sick sob.

  • whether or not i am sick is irrelevant . you don’t know my thoughts on things unspoken . when you try to guess you fail . completely .

    “nazi” was an oft spoken oral abbreviation for “nationalsozialist” from the early 30’s . whether people in the party used it or not is of no interest to me . check the 2002 edition of etymologisches wörterbuch der deutschen sprache for more information .

  • since your guesses are always wrong, lets mover the conversation back to the tragedy in pittsburgh, and lets talk how people can live and work together and be safe from those who hate and are violent .