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Queens Muslims on alert after barrage in Boston

TimesLedger Newspapers

Members of Queens’ Muslim community said this week they had not experienced a backlash in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, but whenever an act of terrorism makes headlines, it puts them on edge.

“I have not noticed anything in the neighborhood. Everything seems to be normal and I am hoping it stays this way,” said Imam Eden Djonovic, of the Albanian American Islamic Center of Queens in Ridgewood.

With bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in custody a week after he and his brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, allegedly detonated several explosive devices at the marathon’s finish line, the national conversation has turned to what, if any, ties the two had to radical Islamic groups.

Tamerlan, who was killed in a shoot-out with police, was an avowed Muslim, news reports say, but his younger brother’s views on the religion are still not clear. The brothers’ background — ethnic Chechens who emigrated from Kyrgyzstan — have only fueled perceptions of them as outsiders.

Djonovic said whatever the brothers’ religious affiliations, he identified first with the victims.

“When I realized what had happened and who was responsible for the attacks, I related to the victims. I think terrorists do not belong to any religion or to any community,” he said. “I always feel bad and am always shocked when I hear about these kinds of things happening with Muslims. And honestly, before the identity of these men was revealed, I prayed that they were not Muslim because it is very hard for us.”

And while the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the assault of a Bangladeshi man who was beaten in the Bronx hours after the bombings allegedly by a Hispanic male who made anti-Muslim statements, it appears Queens has so far been spared any such incidents.

Imam Shamsi Ali, chairman of the Al-Hikmah Mosque in Astoria and director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, said he had not heard of any incidences of physical violence in Queens, but had been told about some women who were verbally attacked in Astoria.

“I simply hope that this is temporary, and I hope that we will become more mature in the wake of a tragedy like this,” he said.

Djonovic said that while Ridgewood’s Muslims and the broader community generally get along well, the peace can feel fragile.

“The backbone of the Muslim religion is trustworthiness and peace. But now, people connect violent acts with Islam. These terrorists, they do not believe in Islam,” he said. “My words are weaker than someone else’s deeds. We try to get the real interpretation of Islam across and if it doesn’t work, I try again. I take it as a challenge. We have to work 10 times harder than other missionaries. Sometimes I feel like I am weak and my voice is not strong enough, but I try. It is all I can do.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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