Residents were told that hundreds of anti-Islam protesters would ride through their small community in upstate New York on Sunday.
And while it was cold, 300 to 400 people met those bikers as part of a “peace rally and community day.”
Many of them had traveled from elsewhere to participate in the demonstration in the rural village, which serves as the headquarters of Muslims of America. A local NAACP chapter provided two charter buses to transport people from the Oneonta area, the Daily Star reported.
“We’re doing this in order to assure our neighbors in Islamberg that we are not going to be silent, and that we are not going to tolerate hatred,” Regina Betts, vice president of Oneonta’s chapter of the NAACP, said at an interfaith meeting earlier this month. “The main thing is that we fight discrimination and that we do it peacefully.”
Islamberg Mayor Rashid Clark told the Guardian the idea for the peace rally came from community members who found out details of the biker protest. “They called us and said they wanted to come and support,” he said. “This turnout is not our doing.”
“We just decided, ‘Okay, if you want to ride by, we’re going to hold a peace rally,’” Clark said.
So as the bikers entered the community in Hancock, N.Y., they were met by demonstrators holding signs reading “Stop harassing American Muslims” and “Biker Bigots Begone.”
The biker group’s Facebook event page alleges that Islamberg is connected to Jamaat ul-Fuqra, which protesters wanted designated as a terrorist organization. “Heavily armed, trained, and ready for violent jihad against innocent Americans, they prey on our prison populations and vulnerable youth to recruit, but the FBI’s hands are tied,” reads the description of the event.
The biker event organizer, Ram Lubranicki, told the Guardian that the event was “educational” and “there’s certainly a lot of excitement about this idea.”
“So far it’s a little disappointing,” Lubranicki told the Guardian about the turnout. “If we had great weather we could easily have a few hundred bikers here.”
There were more state police troopers than bikers on site, the Daily Star reported.
“We were prepared for more bikers,” New York State Police Capt. Scott Heggelke told the newspaper. “I’m glad it was a peaceful event. We were most concerned with the safety of everyone and with maintaining the flow of traffic on such a rural road.”
Islamberg has been the target of threats — and suspicion, including claims by several websites that it’s the site of terrorist training camps.
In 2015, a Tennessee man and one-time congressional candidate pleaded guilty to plotting an attack on the community.
Formed by a group of African-American Muslims from New York City, the community follows the teachings of Pakistani Sufi cleric Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, who during the 1980s urged his American acolytes to leave metropolitan areas and establish rural communities centered on religious life.Today, Islamberg is one of about a dozen Muslim enclaves formed in accordance with the cleric’s ideas. It also serves as home to Muslims of America, a Gilani-founded organization.
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was to meet Gilani in Pakistan on the day of his 2002 kidnapping; the cleric was subsequently interrogated and released.
CBS News described Islamberg as home to about two dozen Muslim families, who are mostly second- and third-generation Americans from other cities.
At the interfaith NAACP event, where officials said they would show support to Islamberg, Clark, the community’s mayor, said Islamberg has battled misconceptions.
“People say we’re mysterious and violent and it’s not true,” he said, according to the Daily Star. “We just went somewhere where we thought we could practice our religion without bothering our neighbors and live together in harmony. We live a very simple life. We have nothing to hide … and we’re American. I love my country, which is another misconception.”