New York Muslims voice concern over Times Square's first Tarawih prayers
New York City's Times Square is set to host its first ever Tarawih prayers on Saturday, but several members of the Muslim community have voiced concern over the event being held at the bustling location.
According to social media advertisements circulating on Instagram and Facebook, Tarawih, a night prayer performed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and iftar, the breaking of the fast at sunset, will take place at the busy throughfare on 2 April.
The organiser of the event - who requested to be addressed as SQ - told Middle East Eye that he hoped the spectacle of congregational prayers would help non-Muslims learn about Islam.
New Yorkers' attitudes towards Islam and Muslims have been shaped heavily by the 9/11 attacks, with proposed constructions deemed "Islamic" - most notable being the Park51 project - facing resistance from community groups.
Still, several Muslim New Yorkers voiced concern over the desire to hold religious events at the location, claiming that prayers performed in the presence of giant billboards that often display images of scantily clad models would not bridge the divide between Muslims and the wider community.
"Tarawih is supposed to be an intimate form of worship. I don't understand why this has to be done in Times Square. Have you seen the billboards?" Sabrina Jamil, a resident of Queens, told MEE.
"I was down there yesterday with my in-laws. People are practically naked on the screens. Exactly what message are we sending to non-Muslims by praying under that?"
SQ, who boasts more than 152,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 400,000 subscribers on Youtube, said around 1,200 people had signed up to attend the prayers - and he expected more to take part.
"Times Square brings people from all across NYC and the world and it's just a vibe," he told MEE.
"Allah inspired me to hold a dawah event, which will not only unite the Muslims together but teach the non-Muslims what Ramadan is all about, why we fast and to essentially educate them about Islam while creating the most entertaining and historic dawah event ever."
London's Trafalgar Square held iftar gatherings before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but has yet to host Tarawih prayers.
Farah Zaidi, a resident of Brooklyn, said despite the organisers claims, it was unclear what the public event would accomplish other than serving as a spectacle:
"Are they going to completely silence Times Square, which is literally the loudest place to be with loud music everywhere, while they recite the most beautiful words of Allah? Good luck with that."
Sami Rizwan, another resident, told MEE that the money SQ was using to fund the event could be used to feed the city's homeless or other vulnerable groups:
"I am sure he makes tons of money as a YouTuber. But he could use it to feed a thousand people. He could donate it to one of the pantries. Not everything has to be flashy."
Middle East Eye reached out to the New York Permits department to confirm the official status of the event, but received no response by time of publication.
It was also unclear if any mosques, the mayor or local authorities supported the project or were involved in organising the event.