Donald Trump insists thousands of Muslim-Americans in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11
Muslims who were in the area in 2001 say they were praying, not celebrating
Local Muslim leaders are concerned about backlash after Trump's comments
The 55-year-old was on his way to an appointment when he got a phone call to turn on the TV and like many Americans saw the World Trade Center struck by hijacked planes on September 11.
“I was stunned, I was sitting and watching and crying,” he says.
If his story sounds simple, or basic, even entirely too familiar, that’s exactly the point.
The only difference? His name is Ehtesham Naqvi and he’s a Muslim-American who emigrated from Pakistan 45 years ago. He was living in Jersey City, New Jersey – in the shadow of the terror across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan and the city home to Ellis Island.
And it is what makes Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s characterization that Muslims in Jersey City celebrated the attacks all the more personal and agonizing for Naqvi, now 69 years old.
Naqvi remembers the fear of that day. It was twofold: America was under attack and the backlash was already beginning against Muslims in the wake of reports about the hijackers’ religions. He also remembers praying. But he doesn’t remember seeing anyone celebrate.
Trump insisted for a second week that “thousands of American-Muslims in New Jersey celebrated 9/11,” saying in an interview to NBC’s Chuck Todd, “You have a huge Muslim population between Paterson and different places and Jersey City – an unbelievable, large population,” he said.
“I know for sure that is completely untrue,” Waheed Khalid, president of a cemetery for the Muslim community known as Jersey State Memorial Park, says. “There was absolutely no celebration, in fact we were very much concerned about the backlash at our community.”
Some in the community didn’t speak to Navqi or were wary of Muslims in the wake of the attack, but he remembers his community banding together and grieving alongside all faiths.
“I went to the neighborhood and organized a rally immediately for a vigil ceremony,” he says.
Trump’s recollection of that day and what took place in Jersey City and surrounding cities is false, according to city leaders, law enforcement and community leaders. But he hasn’t backed down on the claims, and in fact has continued to repeat them.
“I’ve heard Jersey City. I’ve heard Paterson. It was 14 years ago,” Trump said. “But I saw it on television, I saw clips, and so did many other people – and many people saw it in person. I’ve had hundreds of phone calls to the Trump organization saying, ‘We saw it. There was dancing in the streets.’ ”
Khalid, who is also Pakistani-American, says he does remember throngs of law enforcement, but they were “there to protect the mosque.”
Khalid, like Naqvi, remembers the fear he and the Muslim community felt that day and weeks later: “We were just as much hurt as any other community.”
Naqvi is passionate about being an American. He says he’s made an effort to ingrain himself in the community and celebrate America’s freedoms, which is why Trump’s comments offend him so much. The comments are arrogant, he says, and he feels ashamed as both an American and a Republican.
“We left 40 years ago the land of my county where I belonged to, Pakistan, and adopted this country,” he says.
He cites Islam and the Quran as guiding forces for those beliefs: “If you are living in such a country that you are adopting, that is your country and you must protect it.”
Both men reject in the strongest terms what Trump has said about Muslims’ reactions on September 11 in their town and they also have strong concerns about how it will affect their community and what will happen if Trump is elected President.
“Anything that comes out of his mouth he thinks is true,” Khalid says of Trump. “They are saying a lot of things that are not true and that are terrible and are not bringing communities together but are dividing them.”
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, also a Jersey City resident on September 11, says he wants to set the record straight in case there is still any doubt: “There is no media report that would substantiate that. There is no police record that would substantiate anything that was said with regards of people celebrating in the streets post-9/11.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday morning that there “must be tape of it somewhere” if thousands were demonstrating.
“I don’t want to say he’s not telling the truth or not. Let him deal with it. Let him explain to people. Let him show the evidence of it,” Giuliani says.
As someone who is also proud of his own immigrant roots, Fulop wants to change the conversation about Jersey City.
“You know, we are a big city, a diverse city, we have a big Muslim community that we are proud of and there was no record of anything with regards to what Donald Trump said,” Fulop says.
Ahmed Shedeed remembers hurrying to his mosque and Islamic school in Jersey City that day. He is an Egyptian-American and has lived in Jersey City for 35 years and is the president of the city’s Islamic Center.
As he sits on the floor of the mosque he remembers the fear that gripped him – that something might happen to the mosque or his community – in retaliation for the attacks.
“I came here as a responsible person to make sure that everybody is safe and make sure there is no backlash,” he says. “This is the first thing comes to my mind, they would be upset of what happened, and come to the building and do something wrong.”
He slams Trump’s comments as patently false and says Trump’s rhetoric concerns him greatly, for a variety of reasons.
“I’m worried about as much as he believed in what he says, other people going to believe what he is saying,” he says. “This is going to be more hate, and more Islamophobia against this Muslim community.”
With no evidence to support Trump’s allegations regarding his recollection of the events in New Jersey after 9/11, many Muslim-Americans in Jersey City are left wondering how this conversation is even occurring.
“I was a little surprised and shocked,” says Shedeed, “that somebody like Mr. Trump, somebody that [is] running to be the President of the United States, the country who called for freedom all over the world, the country that is protecting human rights, the country where discrimination has not much room, I was surprised he would be talking in this language.”