Muslim in Boston
The city's Muslim community shows its support for this year's runners
Muslim Americans stand with Boston
By Zahra Ahmed
Video by Kulsoom Khan
On the morning of this year’s Boston Marathon, the small city of Newton was filled with a cacophony of cowbells and loud cheers coming from fans dressed in blue and yellow. At Mile 17, some spectators also wore hijabs, or headscarves, joining a group of fans supporting three runners from the Muslim American community.
This year, 38-year-old Bostonian Jalon Fowler was running to beat her personal record – reaching the finish line just under six hours in 2011. She ran her fourth race this Monday and though she has always ran it for her own enjoyment, Fowler and her two friends unexpectedly became representatives of the Muslim American community this year.
The experience of representing a community was new to Fowler, but she said she and her friends took advantage of being runners, helping the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center show that local Muslims are also “Boston Strong.”
For Fowler, the phrase has come to mean “unity of anyone and everyone who’s willing to stand together strong against evil and hate.” On Monday, supporters of Muslim runners stood together with hundreds of spectators cheering on this year’s 36,000 runners as they passed Mile 17.
Newton, about seven miles outside of Downtown Boston, borders Watertown, where just last year the Tsarnaev brothers, responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings, were in a shootout with the city police. Older brother Tamerlan was killed while 20-year-old Dzhokhar escaped but was found injured and arrested the same day. The surviving brother now faces the death penalty if convicted.
The two Chechen-born American brothers were reportedly influenced by extremist Islamic views. While some Muslims feared a backlash similar to those after 9/11, Fowler said she didn’t face any discrimination.
“When the two suspects claimed to be Muslim, there was some concern that this may get out of hand like 9/11, but all the work done by my community to create awareness has helped because it wasn't like that for me,” she said.
Fowler said that ISBCC, which she is a member of, has been part of this year’s inclusive spirit in the city.
“All year, people have been coming up to me saying ‘We will make sure that you finish this race,’” said Fowler. “The ISBCC specifically gave me tremendous support.”
Fowler said this year’s race was challenging and she almost gave up at Mile five, but seeing her friends along the route of the marathon was motivation for her to keep pushing throughout the race.
“When I saw my friends, it kept me going,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to have people waiting for me. I thought, ‘If I can make it to Mile 12, I’ve got more people at 17.”
Yusufi Vali, Executive Director at ISBCC, and several friends held up a poster with a picture of Fowler and the other Muslim runners as a sign of encouragement.
Like many other Muslim Americans, ISBCC members condemn the Tsarnaev brothers’ actions. Member Saima Ahmed said that Islam encourages peace and the brothers did not represent that. While the city tries to move on from last year’s tragedy, fans from around the nation and even the world came out in droves, showing that regardless of their identity, they all stand with Boston.
“We’re right beside everyone grieving and trying to make it right,” said Fowler. “Not because we feel guilty or answer for those two men, but it's just what you do when something goes wrong in your community.”