Teaneck mayor personal objects to America to Zanzibar
In a glass case, located near a replica Pakistani truck and mock global market at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan are a Quran, a tunic, and a gavel owned by Mohammed Hameeduddin, Bergen County’s first Muslim mayor.
The personal items are part of an exhibit entitled America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far. And Hameeduddin, who first served as Teaneck’s mayor from 2010 to 2014 and was elected again in July, is one of several Muslim-Americans showcased in the exhibit that teaches children about the customs and experiences of Islamic cultures in America and abroad.
”I want people to see we are a diverse nation, and from that we get to learn a lot from each other,” Hameeduddin said.
The exhibit has been running since February, but Hammeeduddin’s belongings were added earlier this month.
The museum was packed on a recent Tuesday morning with children and parents browsing portraits and artifacts donated by Muslim contemporaries and playing in interactive booths where they smelled Indonesian fruit, weighed Moroccan spices, and bought prawns and changuu at a Zanzibari fish market.
Hameeduddin, a Bronx native who grew up in Teaneck, is the sole public official featured alongside local contemporary Muslim figures and emerging artists, according to Director of Exhibit Development Lizzy Martin. Along with a gavel, Hameeduddin included campaign materials from the last election in the exhibit. He ran alongside Councilman Mark Schwartz, who is an Orthodox Jew and Deputy Mayor Henry Pruitt, an African-American who identifies as Christian.
“It’s about showing that plurality in our society,” Martin said. “The diversity of the stories in the exhibit for us is key.”
Arlene Thomas of Orange took a seat near Hameeduddin’s display as her two children played on tablets that taught them how to say “my name is” in 21 different languages. They enjoy experiencing the different cultures, she said, and interacting with other children at the museum.
“You meet people from all walks of life,” she said.
Teaneck, the first town in America to voluntarily desegregate its schools, is widely regarded for its multiculturalism. The display is representative of the town, which prides itself on its diversity, Hameeduddin said.
The exhibit is running at a time when anti-Muslim sentiment is particularly high.
Hate crimes against Muslims rose in 2015 to the highest rates seen since terrorist attacks of 2001, according to Federal Bureau of Investigations data. In the days following the November election, a handful of mosques and Islamic centers around the country received hateful anti-Muslim letters, Southern Poverty Law Center reported.
“In this age of Islamophobia, I hope that by seeing me swearing in on the Quran, there are Muslim-American children everywhere dreaming a little bigger and believing that they can do and become anything they put their mind to,” Hameeduddin said.
Hameeduddin’s inclusion in the exhibit came about when his sister, Yasmeen Al-Shehab visited the exhibit when it first opened. The museum had one vacant slot with a sign encouraging visitors with special stories to reach out.
The museum plans to keep the exhibit open for another year due to its success, Director of Strategic Communications Deirdre Lurie said.
“It’s kind of an easy way to see the world,” Lurie said. “It reflects the diversity of New York City.”