Hundreds of Yemeni and Muslim Americans bowed their heads in unison at outdoor prayers in New York on Thursday, closing grocery stores to protest against President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
The Muslim call to prayer rang out from loudspeakers erected outside Brooklyn’s city hall as the hundreds of faithful turned toward Mecca, standing shoulder to shoulder and bowing their heads to the ground.
Only the whirring of two helicopters monitoring the hours-long protest could be heard between prayers in the ordinarily bustling plaza outside Borough Hall, as non-Muslims stood watching in respectful silence.
Organizers said up to 1,000 Yemeni-owned grocery stores would close across New York’s five boroughs from noon to 8:00 pm (0100 GMT Friday) to protest against the travel ban on immigrants from seven Muslim countries.
To highlight the role of immigrant labor in the city, protestors left their shops to gather in Brooklyn, waving American and Yemeni flags, chanting “United We Stand Against the Muslim Ban” and “USA!”
Trump’s explosive executive order came into effect last Friday, closing US borders to refugees for 120 days and to visa holders from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.
Syrian refugees have been banned indefinitely.
“No ban, no wall, justice for all,” they shouted before the prayers in reference to the Republican president’s plans to build a wall on the Mexican border as part of his tough new immigration policies.
They held up homemade placards with slogans like “Muslim Lives Matter,” “Hate Will Never Make Us Great” and “Mr Trump, Where’s Your Wife From?” in reference to the first lady’s Slovenian birth.
Several members of the mostly male crowd said the vast majority were Yemeni Americans who were joining a public protest for the first time, closing their shops to send a message to the new commander-in-chief.
At the back, a smaller group of Muslim women gathered after sundown to chant, “say it loud, say it clear Muslim refugees welcome here.”
Don’t care about the money
Trump said the measures were necessary to protect America from September 11, 2001 style extremist attacks and would allow authorities to determine whether visa procedure needed to be more severely vetted.
The New York protesters said the ban was racist and unjust.
“We stand here for justice, for dignity,” said Yousef al-Baadani, 31, enveloped in a US flag knotted around his neck to fend off the winter chill.
Like many others he works in a grocery store, his in Queens, that is known in New York as a “bodega.” The shops — which sell everything from deli food to household goods — often keep long hours and are considered essential to the daily routines of many New Yorkers.
“Most of the stores closed today,” Baadani told AFP.
“We don’t care about money, we just care about freedom and we need no racism inside this country,” said one protester, threatening more demonstrations and further shutdowns if necessary.
“He held the people in the airport, he didn’t let them get into the United States. That’s racist,” said bodega manager Adam Zokari, 19, who said he knew two people detained on arrival before being released.
In the decade that he has lived in America, he said he had never seen anything like the travel ban.
“We love America. It’s my country. It’s my family’s country,” said bodega worker Walid Mohammad, 31, who said his visa-carrying brother was sent back while en route to New York.
Mohammad said he had lived in America for eight years and his father for 35 years. He had closed his store for eight hours.
Sending a message to the 70-year-old billionaire turned president was the priority, he said: “We want to tell him, he did a lot of wrong.”