For the past four years, Katerine Merriman (a Ph.D. candidate in Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) has been giving Muslim history tours of New York City with a focus on Harlem… for free. “New York is one of the most, if not the most, diverse Muslim cities in the world,”says the scholar/tour director whose own roots is Irish-American.”There is no such thing as a ‘Muslim world’ somewhere else.”
New York Times journalist Sharon Otterman joined thirty other sight-seers (many of them Muslim) for a recent tour of Harlem where they visited Muslim-related sites both of the past and present. As Ms. Otterman writes: “Many of the places Ms. Merriman pointed out were already gone or transformed beyond recognition. The site of the African National Memorial Bookstore, where Malcolm X studied black history into the night, is now a 19-story state office building. A local mosque, Masjid Aqsa, that served the area’s African Muslim immigrants, was pushed out in 2012 after its rent more than tripled, and its former site is now a vacant lot.”
Ms. Merriman says this is the reason she is giving the tour, citing that these recent histories are mostly oral histories and not written down.
Tasneem Ebrahim, 21, is a Columbia University undergraduate from Bahrain who also took the tour. “Back home, we think of America as a country that Muslims have only recently immigrated to and nobody learns about the fact that Muslims were here since the beginning, since the first time people came to this country.”