ASTORIA, Queens – Its title implies that it promotes all people's ways of life worldwide, but the fact that police are on alert in preparation for the Global Rally for Humanity speaks volumes about its true nature.
The event, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Muslim holy days, has law enforcement nationwide prepared to be on hand at places like the Islamic Center of Astoria, Queens. That's where local resident Usman Asmag was walking out of afternoon prayers Thursday with a relative. "We come to worship and pray to God," he said to PIX11 News.
In other words, he and the dozen and a half or so people going in and out of the house of worship on Astoria Boulevard were simply exercising their constitutional right. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...".
But the Global Rally for Humanity is explicitly against one religion, Islam. Its organizer made calls to action via social media for what it called patriots to gather outside of Muslim houses of worship Friday, during prayer. The intention is to protest Islam, the entire religion -- not extremism, not violence done in the name of Islam -- but the entirety of the world's second largest religion. The protests are planned for 20 different cities nationwide .
They were all started by one man, apparently. Jon Ritzheimer is closely affiliated with many known hate groups.
One of those groups sponsored a highly offensive "Draw Muhammad" cartoon contest last spring, in Garland, Texas. It ended up being attacked by Muslim extremists, who police in turn shot and killed.
Friday and Saturday's demonstrations are not necessarily expected to be deadly, even though, at many of the locations nationwide, concealed weapons are permitted.
"You never know what's going to come," said Sadiya Khalique, spokesperson for the Council on American- Islamic Relations, an advocacy group for religious tolerance.
She pointed out that no New York City area mosques are on the list. Still, the NYPD released a statement on Thursday about the Rally for Humanity. "Our community affairs personnel have been and will be in contact with Muslim leaders throughout the city," it said in part. "In the event of any demonstrations," it continued, "NYPD resources will be deployed to ensure order and safety...".
Worshipers have been warned by CAIR, law enforcement and by mosques themselves to be vigilant and alert on Friday and Saturday. Meanwhile, some Muslims and their supporters and friends said they are planning their own demonstration. They said it will be peaceful, and based on the example of the Prophet Muhammad.
"Muhammad faced a lot of protests," said Khalique in an interview with PIX 11 News. "He had people throw stones at him," she continued. And, she said, when the prophet was criticized for interacting with Jews or Christians, he would reply, "'that's what Islam teaches us.'"
The Rally for Humanity, though, appears to be part of a larger situation. Presidential front runner Dr. Ben Carson said last month on Meet The Press, "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation," in contradiction to the Constitution that neither respects nor prohibits any religion.
Also, currently, in the city of Yonkers, a petition and permit request were filed secretly to try and stop an Islamic Center from being built at an historic property that a congregation bought half a year ago.
Examples like that can indicate that there may be open anti-Muslim discrimination here in New York and nationwide. But Muslim activists tell PIX1 1 News they're looking at the situation positively.
"We're encouraging people to take this as an opportunity to educate the community," Khalique said.
Members of her organization will join mosque members nationwide on Friday with literature and signs that promote positive, peaceful and educational attributes of Islam to counter Rally for Humanity demonstrators' Islamophobic messages.