NEW YORK -- Around Manhattan today, Muslims responded to Osama bin Laden's death with a range of emotions. Happiness and disbelief were common themes, as were relief and hope. Many also expressed frustration at the long-standing stigma that bin Laden's actions had attached to Islam.
Khalid Latif, Chaplain and Executive Director for the Islamic Center at New York University, argued that bin Laden's life was one that contradicted Islam’s peaceful traditions, so in his death, there's an opportunity to dramatically shift the image of Islam.
“This is a chance for Islam to speak for itself instead of speaking in reaction to something bad,” said Latif. "What we’ve seen en masse is all walks of life coming together, celebrating and smiling,” he said, pointing to the late night celebrations at Ground Zero.
Noor Zafar, a Muslim of Pakistani descent who is studying politics at NYU, echoed these sentiments.
“As an American Muslim, I was happy to see crowds celebrating in the streets and reacted positively to Obama's statement,” she said. “I was also glad that Obama reiterated that America is not at war with Islam and that people such as [bin Laden] do not represent the majority of Muslims.”
Omar Abu-namous, an imam at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York in East Harlem, said it may be inappropriate to “rejoice” in anyone’s death, but there is still solace to be taken in the news.
“Al Qaeda is a burden to Islam," he said. "We always want to get rid of that stigma, this smear on the reputation of Islam.”
Outside Masjid Ar-Rehman, a mosque on 29th Street, a group of men leaving prayer services felt further compelled to disassociate Islam from the mere mention of bin Laden's name, repeating, "bin Laden is bad, bin Laden is bad."
Bamba Mben, 50, a driver for a limousine company, wasn't sure whether to believe the news.
"Is it true?" he called out as he walked into prayer services. Later, he argued that bin Laden's death wasn't really about religion but about terrorism. "All terrorists mix up the world," he said. "Any religion has good guys and bad guys. Just because one guy does one thing wrong, that doesn't mean the whole religion is bad."
Ali Salam, 40, who works at a clothing store near the mosque, was quick to note that bin Laden was no friend to Islam. "He killed more Muslims than his enemies," he said. "Americans made him and Americans killed him."
Back at the Islamic Cultural Center, the mood was calm as worshipers removed their shoes and went in to pray at afternoon services.
“Nothing is different today,” said Latifa al-Mubakir, a secretary at the Center. In fact, al-Mubakir wasn’t even aware that bin Laden had been killed. She was too busy this weekend to turn on the TV, “helping people with groceries, marriage licenses, paperwork," she said. "That’s what we do here. We help humanity.”
Abu-namous, the center's imam, said he hopes that bin Laden’s death finally “lifts a veil” from Islam, and the focus can now be on progress. “Look at how Egypt achieved in two months what [bin Laden] could not achieve in many years,” he said. “Look at that.”