September 10, 2010


Muslim mayor's city a model of tolerance: The New Jersey city of Teaneck is across the Hudson from Manhattan, but yet it seems immune to the current debate over the Islamic center. Mohammed Hameeduddin is more concerned about the economy. (Tina Susman, September 10, 2010, LA Times)

Mohammed Hameeduddin is not the first practicing Muslim mayor of a U.S. city. That was Charles Mustafa Bilal, who presided over Kountze, Texas, in the 1990s. Nor is Hameeduddin the first Muslim to become a mayor since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Wayne Smith was elected in Irvington, N.J., in 2002.

But Hameeduddin, in office since July, is no doubt the only Muslim mayor who on a recent Sunday could be found in a bagel shop crowded with Jewish constituents chatting about Islam and the Teaneck mosque's expansion, as touchy a topic as anyone — much less a politician in a New York City suburb — could tackle nowadays. [...]

In 1965, Teaneck became the first mainly white city in America to voluntarily desegregate its schools. Eight years later, Hameeduddin's uncle bought a house in the town, one of the first Muslims to settle here. The first mosque went up in 1985 and now has a congregation of about 500 families. In February, the planning board voted 9-0 to approve its expansion. The population is about 56% white, 27% black, 10% Latino and 7% Asian.

Hameeduddin, a first-generation American of Indian descent, prays five times a day. A devout Muslim, he has traveled to Mecca for the Hajj, and he fasts during Ramadan. As he talked in the bagel shop, surrounded by people sipping coffee and sinking their teeth into fluffy rolls smeared with lox and cream cheese, Hameeduddin maintained his fast. When a local resident phoned him to request a meeting — not unusual in a city where local politicians' e-mail addresses and cellphone numbers are posted online — Hameeduddin replied, "After Ramadan."

He doesn't restrict his religious commitment to Islam.

"He encourages me to be a better Jew," joked city councilman and former mayor Elie Y. Katz, whom Hameeduddin sometimes reminds to go to synagogue. Katz, who ran Hameeduddin's campaign, said the collective youth of Teaneck's leaders has helped the city avoid the nationwide debate on Islam and immigration. The council is dominated by 30- and 40-somethings with young children, mortgages and jobs to supplement their $7,000 annual stipend for city service. Katz became Teaneck's youngest mayor in 2006, when he was 31. His successor, Kevie Feit, was 37 when he left office this year. Hameeduddin, boyish and clean-shaven, also is 37.

Perhaps more than their elders, the leaders are consumed by the recession and more worried about saving money than about someone else's prayer habits, Katz said.

In fact, when Katz and Hameeduddin discuss what they consider the key issues facing Teaneck and the rest of the country, they talk about taxes, budgets, housing and jobs. Not once do they mention immigration or religion. "That should be the topic of every politician: jobs, jobs, jobs," said Hameeduddin, who says he was nudged into running for the two-year term by Katz.

...that once you fix the economy a lot of the nativism/Islamophobia goes away.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at September 10, 2010 5:31 AM
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