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Misba Abdin

Oral history interview conducted by Liz H. Strong

December 17, 2018

Call number: 2018.006.53

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STRONG: Today is Monday. It is December -- what's the date today?

ABDIN: Seventeen, I think.

STRONG: It's the 17th? I believe you. Okay. So December 17th, 2018.

ABDIN: Want to make sure.

STRONG: This is [laughter] Liz Strong for the Brooklyn Historical Society. And we're just checking the date.

ABDIN: Of the twelfth -- 17, yes.

STRONG: Yes! Okay, we got it right. So Misba, why don't you introduce yourself and just say when and where you were born?

ABDIN: Okay. My name is Misba Abdin. I born [date redacted for privacy] 1969, in Bangladesh, District Sylhet, [inaudible] Beanibazar.

STRONG: Tell me a little bit about your life growing up. What do you remember about your childhood?

ABDIN: [laughter] I remember the time that I -- the memory that -- back that my father -- I -- I was living with my stepmother. My father lived in United State. That I remember. But I do remember my grandmother died in 1979. That's the 1:00earliest I can go. And 1982, June 28, 1982, I -- I -- I did arrived in New York with my stepmom, my two stepbrothers, stepsister, and one of my older brother.

STRONG: Do you have any memories of life with your grandmother and what -- what it was like?


STRONG: Tell me about it.

ABDIN: I remember my grandmother -- because my mom died when I was very young. Perhaps someone say six month, someone say a years, but I don't know exact date. I remember every time people -- in our tradition people always, when they go to house -- guest -- guest comes to the house, they always bring food or food for them. I always remember my grandmother always save all the food she don't eat, save it for me. And I would not eat because she was sick. She had a kidney failure. And she's homebound. So I -- I -- I used to feel disgust some reason, 2:00so she's not clean. And she used to give me most of -- most of the time I would have the food and take it, and I used to throw it away.

STRONG: Why was your father in the US? What was he doing here?

ABDIN: For what I heard from my father he came -- he -- he had some fight when he was a teenager, so he had to leave the house because my grandfather was going to beat him up. In our tradition they do something, they really get beat up. So he went into working for the ship, and then he -- in 1948 -- he came before -- I think sometimes late '30s, but he got caught, went back -- 1948 he finally came and arrived and stayed here. And also the story that I heard, until 1960s, early 3:00'60s, that he never communicated with my grandfather and mother. They thought he dead or something. So suddenly some -- sometime early '60s he went back. That's how my grandfather and grandmother found out that he's alive.

STRONG: Wow. And did he get married when he went back?

ABDIN: Yeah. Then my --

STRONG: What's that story?

ABDIN: -- yeah, that's how my grandmother and grandfather forced him to get married, because they thought if he leaves again he never going to come back. So that's why [laughter] they -- my grandfather forced him to get married to my mom. And yes.

STRONG: And you have no memories of your mother?

ABDIN: I have no memories of my mother.

STRONG: Tell me about your siblings a little bit.

ABDIN: We are -- from my mom we have four brothers. And then I have a step-- because I was a baby, so I wasn't -- grandmother was sick, and the time I -- my grandfather died before I born. So I heard the story that my uncles, my grandmother, forced my dad to get remarried, so I was a little kid, so someone 4:00can take care of me. That's usually in third world country. So he got married, left here, then I have a two brother and one sister, stepsister. But nobody can tell but us because we has -- we still live together. We have no -- we do fight and everything, but we have nothing -- there's nobody "they are step." We all are same. You know? We don't have that kind of stepbrother -- we don't even say that, you know. It's not in our culture. "It's my brother; it's my brother. It's my sister; it's my sister."

STRONG: Tell me about your stepmother a little bit.

ABDIN: Oh, my stepmother -- and -- and one thing about a third world country, once the morning open -- I mean, [laughter] when the morning happen, once you open the door, you come out, and the whole world to you. You don't home -- go to play, go to school, go to mosque, and then go to play -- one time -- only time you come back in the day, the evening. So it doesn't -- you don't -- yeah, we go to house only time when we need to eat. Otherwise we never home. [laughter] 5:00Especially my father wasn't there, so there was no restriction, you know. Even they do yell, but who listen? [laughter]

STRONG: What was she like?

ABDIN: No, she's a great mom. She's a great mom. She always cook, take care of us, but -- yeah. My grandmom, she loves me, but she also yell at me most because I'm the one who give her the most problem. [laughter]

STRONG: So when you moved to the US it was after your grandmother died.


STRONG: So tell me about what that transition was like.

ABDIN: I remember -- that's -- that's the earliest I can go -- my grandmother died, and then I -- I -- I -- I remember my father applied for us. So I think it took a couple of years to get everything ready. Same time I also -- my father also -- my uncles, they apply for my aunt and my cousin. So actually they -- both of them is like maybe a week different. The embassy call us for the -- pick 6:00up the visa, so we do. So our cousin and us, we came to United State same date, same year.

STRONG: What do you remember about Brooklyn or the US in general when you came? What were your thoughts?

ABDIN: I remember exact word -- that my older brother picked me up from JFK Airport -- when I was [driving]. We were looking because of course there's -- we came from a very remote suburb and to city, one of the best city in the world. Cars, lot of houses. I see a kid playing football on the sidewalk. So, you know, I was a small kid; you know, I always like sports. I say definitely maybe a week later I was dreaming, smiling that we were going to play. But actually, I said earlier, it never happened because -- where my father actually -- most of his American life he spend on Sixth Street. That's where he used to live, downtown. That's where most Bengalis used to live. It wasn't a very good area, but they used to live there. So when he applied and we got our visa, he moved to Ozone 7:00Park, Queens because he thought this neighborhood was better than down -- it used to be very bad downtown. So we moved here. But we came where the border of Brooklyn and Queens. One of the most craziest places in the earth East New York. We've been picked and bullied all -- I -- growing my life up has been always picked, bullied, fight every other day. That's the normal life. Growing up it was a nightmare. Even sometime -- even today my wife sometime say, "Why you sometimes scream out --" I wake up screaming, and I -- and I don't remember those thing lot of time. Because my two older brother was working; my brother, we were in school. We are only a couple [Bangladeshi] family there. A couple, a few family. But as a young kid we are the probably first family.

Of course, I came when I was young. I was learning English. I did have an accent. I still have an accent, but I do speak other language same time. We've 8:00been called Gandhi; [they] used to spit on us; they used to [say] we smell spice, we stinks. They always pick on us, bully us. We had to fight. I was a -- I don't take -- because my -- one thing about my mom died when I was young, so anybody call "m.f." I don't take it. It doesn't matter 1 or 10, I used to swing at them. They used to beat the shit out of me. And they used to beat the hell out of me.

But, you know -- I -- I remember one time my cousin -- I was coming from the school, and I was like -- 10, 15 kid were saying about "m.f." and say something, and I turned around and hit him. Ten guy was beat me, kick me, punch me. I get up. A lot of good kids said, "Misba, stay down, you'll be safe." But me, long as I can stand up and fight back, I fight back until I pass out. Many time I did 9:00fight, and I pass out. Most of the time I -- I used to go home [laughter] black and blue. One time my father got so tired of me he put me some -- "Why don't you go to karate school?" So I joined the karate school too. But, you know, karate school if karate school, you learn -- but yeah, I be able to defend myself some time or no. One thing about martial art is [confidence]. You know, you cannot fight them, you cannot beat them, you know, best thing is run. [laughter] So I ran.

The worst thing in -- in the nightmare growing up in East New York, people do get trouble a lot of time; we call 911. Especially 75th Precinct, even today, is one of the craziest precinct. We call 911; instead of arrest them they used to always be -- we are six brother and a sister. To my knowledge, and you can check it, we have no crime history. We don't steal; we don't do drugs. But all of our six brother got arrested. Not one time; many times. Because we call 911 for 10:00help. You know, we are like one against hundred, but they always picked us up because -- because it was Italian, the officer was -- hey. You know. That's what happened. We got pick up many times. As we speak, the house that we live in former, we still have the bullet hole. If you can --

STRONG: Someone shot at your house?

ABDIN: Yeah. One time I -- we had a fight [laughter] and -- and then they came back later with a gun and shoot at the door. We still have -- it was a metal door. We didn't change it. We still have the door. So if you go you can take the picture. It still -- bullet hole still exact -- it's been almost over maybe 30 years. [laughter]

STRONG: Your family lives in the same house?



ABDIN: We moved to -- we moved two block away. It's also our house but, you know, as working in the land of opportunity now we are better off than before. We bought a new house. Actually, we bought a land that we build a house, and we build a two house together. Each floor our each brother lives. We are five 11:00brother live in one big building, and one brother live another building.

STRONG: So you're all still close.

ABDIN: Yeah. We are very close.

STRONG: That's great. So around this time, your childhood here, your father was also being kind of a -- a hub for new immigrants moving to the neighborhood.


STRONG: Can you tell me about that a little bit?

ABDIN: Yes. My father actually he was the oldest one and most respected one in here. Anybody need any suggestion, looking for a job, my father always there to -- so if there's anything they do they always take suggestions my father. And my father always give them suggestion. If anybody comes to America [laughter] everybody send them to go to [laughter] Sup-- my father name was Suptar [phonetic]. So they come. My father let us sleep sometime in sofa, sometime in carpet, depend how many people are there, until my father help them find a job. [laughter] So when they job they move on. And that's how my father were.

And I used to be always a troublemaker, so my father always send me, "Okay, take 12:00this gentleman or -- them to Manhattan, walk -- if you see 'Help Wanted,' let them walk in and look for jobs, hospital or anything." So it's just me, and then my father's also -- also -- so when people didn't find my dad they used to come to me.

And I -- and I -- I just enjoy helping. Even today that's what I do. I enjoy helping people. And it's give me a joy. Because people only time -- people need your help when they have a problem. And -- and -- and this is the time you want to help, and that's -- it's -- I'm just passionate because in my life -- I would not say hundred, I would say thousands of people I help in my life, even today. Our organization be able to help at least 50 to a hundred people per day. And -- and -- and -- and my phone became -- it's like well -- especially in New York it's 311. Anything -- unless they don't know anything they call me. "Misba, that 13:00happened, do you know --"

Even somebody got hit and run and got killed last week, a Bengali kid. He came to United State only three and a half month. The first call, "Misba, do you know?" But I ran, I went, I went to the kid's family house. Give my condolences, and see if we can help you, you know. And his family was well off, and back home they take care of everything, so. But still we went, and -- I went, myself.

STRONG: So how did those -- those early days helping your father connect people turn into founding the community center?

ABDIN: Oh, yes. Because -- okay, as -- as I said, those days New York City used to be crazy. So always when Bengali people used to come, they will look for where Bangladesh people live. So we were living there, and because of our troublemaker fighting all those people know, "Okay, they are [laughter] Bangladesh here," they see. So they moved in. Now I would say about around seventy to eighty thousand Bengali people live in this neighborhood because of 14:00my dad and one of my dad friend, which is my uncle [inaudible]. So because of those two gentlemen -- this whole community is Bangladeshi because of them.

STRONG: What kind of changes did you experience growing up as more and more Bangladeshi people moved here?

ABDIN: Okay. Before taking step out from house was a nightmare. Now you can walk in the neighborhood, sleep on the sidewalk or street. We would not think or hesitate. Before going -- just to go to a store, shopping store, buy a clothes or buy a food, it was a nightmare. It's like our -- I know our parents and other, the -- unless it's needed, they would not come out from the house. But us, yes, we know, but we still sneak out. We know we're going to have a problem, but always -- every time when we step out we look who's there. If we see kids out there, we might go 20 block around and go. But, you know, it's -- even a 15:00park, we used to go there, sit and wait, wait until they finish playing, then we'd go. Otherwise we'd go, they'd bully us and beat on us, "Get out here; we don't want you there." Yeah.

STRONG: But now --

ABDIN: Now -- now it's totally different there.

STRONG: And you're raising your own kids in this neighborhood, right?


STRONG: Tell me about their life and their education.

ABDIN: [laughter] One thing -- one thing which is true, I -- I'm -- I went to same school where my children is going, which is PS-214. But that one thing is -- when I went to PS-214 was a very good school. But it's not good as before. Now my children go there because we live here and this is the only school. Thanks God my children doing well. They are going to specialized high schools and middle school. The school system is not good as before because nobody -- because our community lack of knowledge, lack of education. Our system -- right 16:00now the principal and teacher, you know, they just come here for work. They don't do what needs to be done.

It just -- we -- I've been fighting -- many time there was -- before -- I remember when I used to go to school there was a cross guard all over. Now there was a street -- and Pitkin Avenue is kind of semi-highway. I've been advocating for, like, three years, "School needs cross -- cross guard." They didn't. So one day one guy hit and run, broken rib, and this child is paralyzed. Finally end up they give them a cross guard. But after someone life been destroyed, and now you're putting cross guard. But finally it happened. He -- the child have to sacrifice for everybody. That's what I say.

Even school -- every time -- I don't -- I don't go drop my children anymore; I let my -- my wife say, "I do it." Because every time I go I have problem. I fight. Because I talk -- that's been -- you know, the school system is education 17:00where you go and learn. Even the PS-214 go to school. If I go there -- I went many time. You sign in, wait, looking for somebody to talk -- because I need help. You will see them talking. One time about -- what was -- I think last March on 2018 I went there, sitting for, like, five, seven minutes, and them talking. I got so mad I smashed on the desk. I said, "What am I here, stranger here? I'm here to help." And then -- and they -- and it was like 60 -- over 60% Bengali. Not even one person Bengali staff in the office. One parent coordinator is Bengali, but he -- he born, raised -- he scared [for] his job. He's not very helpful. And nobody else. There's halal issue and kosher issue. There's over 67%; not even one person -- you -- I tell my children, "Do not eat what's given because there might be pork," because we don't allow to pork. There's not even one person Bengali to tell what eat good for them -- and even 60%. This is 18:00school is miserable and, I don't know, not city, not state, doing anything to -- I've been advocating the community board; I've been writing to the superintendent -- nothing has happened. So it -- it -- still we live in a democracy country, but it's totally controlled. They do whatever they want. City, it just -- I don't know. I have no word.

STRONG: Yeah. To go back to your own young life a little bit, you mentioned that you saw people playing soccer, and you had played soccer back home in Bangladesh. And you eventually came to start your own league, right?

ABDIN: Yeah. Yeah. When the -- okay. We couldn't able because of this whole -- we never had it. So after we came here my father, friends, family, the Bengali, he took us and we -- somehow we met all the young kid throughout New York City, even New Jersey, in Paterson. We found a quite few people that they interested; 19:00they want to play soccer. So I don't remember how the first just started, but it was early '82. It was a lot of Bengali also live in downtown Manhattan. So we invited -- there was a -- only soccer field by the East River. So we -- everybody come from Paterson, Flushing, Jackson Heights, Ozone. It was -- Jackson Heights wasn't exist -- from Ozone Park. We used to go and play soccer. So it was quite a lot. And then we playing. And then eventually after following year "let's get the permit." I -- I remember I -- at first when I -- I got the permit, and then we had a soccer league. Is -- is a competition again. There was team -- I think, five or six. There was a Manhattan team, Ozone Park/East New York team, Queens team, and New Jersey team. And we -- and that's how we grow eventually. I was a soccer player. I always used to do the most of the footwork. Ball was -- I used to buy the ball. I remember people couldn't afford the cleats, so I used to buy cleat. And these grow and grow, and then -- as a player 20:00I organize everything, but we -- we have senior brother who goes there to support. We make them an executive committee. And they run the committee, and we play. And it grow, grow, grow. And it still this.

And first we named it Bangladesh Football Federation. In 1998 we converted it into Bangladesh Football Council. So because a lot of people wants to play cricket and other. But it never happened; we still -- Bangladesh Football Council is a -- still be playing soccer. Now every years we have about 12 team. We have, like, 4 team from Brooklyn, 2 teams from Bronx, and then Queens. Maybe team come from New Jersey. There's a team comes from Connecticut. So we have 12 team, and we still going to -- and the great thing, it's over 30 years we've been playing. And I know at least, I would say, more than twenty -- between twenty to thirty thousand kids plays in the league and moved on. And we keep them busy and become -- and -- and every summer is became -- is end of the 21:00soccer league get really nasty, because everybody wants to come. They even hire people from England. They get national player from Bangladesh to play in our league. That's how it became -- big it became.

STRONG: And you told me it was -- in the summers it became a time for, like, families to --

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: -- get together?

ABDIN: Before -- before that's one the only place where Bengali able the chance to meet them. Yes. But now it became so saturated it's not like before. Before every Sunday all the family [inaudible] mother, father, used to go to prayer. Used to see lots of people. Because people wasn't safe out there in the neighborhood, so that was the best opportunity to go out there, play with the kid, go to the park, enjoy this.

STRONG: So having that --

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: -- organized --

ABDIN: Organized.

STRONG: -- kind of solidarity --

ABDIN: Solidarity, yeah.

STRONG: -- really brought people out.


STRONG: That's wonderful.

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: Tell me a little bit about -- you mentioned when you were a little kid in Bangladesh you would sort of be out all day, and you could go to all these places, including the mosque. How was prayer and religious practice different 22:00when you came to the United States?

ABDIN: Oh, unfortunately when we came there was no mosque. There's only one prayer that -- Eid every year two time and the Friday. Friday is one of the special prayer. So Friday we couldn't go; school is open. So when the summertime we used to go to Manhattan. Madina Masjid -- there's only one masjid was exist that [was] actually Bengali community. When my father was there early, they built around late or early '60s. I'm not -- I don't -- I'm not sure when. But when we were here that's the only mosque there, so we used to go there for prayer. But [in] those days we don't even know what month was the Ramadan, what month is -- nothing was known, because we are so -- [laughter] yeah, disconnected from all this. Yeah. But now community grow; now [laughter] every day has been updated.


ABDIN: Especially the electronic media now took over the world. You don't need to know anything; they wake you up every morning. [laughter]

STRONG: Tell me about starting the first mosque in East New York.

ABDIN: First mosque in East -- as a -- as a -- I told you, as a young boy, one 23:00reason -- my father see we'd be always fighting, we'd never praying, and there's nothing there to -- because my father and my friend's uncle's father, whoever it was there, they afraid that we will adopt American culture; we're not going to be a Muslim anymore. So I -- I remember there was a -- one of my father's friend -- we also call him "Uncle" -- he have a house on Forbell Street, and he have a garage behind. So that's where we -- my father also have cousin who came to United State as a student visa, so he is not allowed to work. So my father use him to teach us Islamic thing. So he get paid a little bit so he can able to pay his subway or whatever, his pocket money. So that's where they -- we start first Islamic school, small school. I think we had, like, four or five students.

And -- and then later, I think in '84 -- exact remember what month it was in 24:001984 -- they rent out the basement of the first house -- last house of Forbell and corner house of Forbell and Glenmore. They bought it. First started in the basement, and then the owner wants to sell it. Then all the community gather, raise some money, and then they bought the house. Then one house bought it; then second house went for sale; another for sale. But when first one bought, that was a nightmare. People I remember was praying. It was the Fourth of July. Some Italian kid went, opened the door; they threw a bomb inside while we was praying. And many times, many times, our window been broken; somebody throw -- they used to throw garbage front of the door. It was whole drama. But eventually time pass, more people came in; now mosque is so big -- now it's totally controlled by the community now.


STRONG: So when did you start construction on Al-Aman?

ABDIN: Al-Aman's construction I think it started sometimes late '90s. I'm not sure, but it was probably ninety -- it was between '96 and '98 is construction started. Yeah. But it's still under construction. The reason -- one thing -- because East New York is one of the most underserved community of people who cannot afford. They are here because with the borough of Brooklyn, Queens, and all the crimes are here, the rent -- it was very unsafe neighborhood. That's why rent was cheap. So they -- people who can't afford, they are living here.

Al-Aman is -- is -- is funded by poor people with pennies and dimes and nickels. That's why when they first -- the architect -- they didn't have money to do the architect. So one of the community, he was a Bengali architect. He used to be 26:00professor in Brooklyn Tech High School. He's the one who gave -- pro bono did the architect. And that's why they have able to architect. It wasn't really, really professional. And -- and they start the foundation with the small money. The worse -- worst of the worst -- the people who was in executive committee, they are not educated, they are lack of construction experience, lack of resources, lack of money. That's why architect did one pillar at a time, second pillar, third pillar, because the money was short. And that's why it's never been growing.

And -- and the building department, through the time, the code being changed. When it was started like this, second year code say they have to break it again. And the worst part, because of the community growing so big they didn't follow -- because of lack of education -- [laughter] they did not follow the code of 27:00building department. When they had first floor they built -- they put another wall and made another more space for people to pray, not going by building code. So the money they spent in this building they could have done it long time ago. Just because of lack of knowledge, lack of education, and changing of building code, they have so much construction and -- and so much break down again and build it again. And -- and -- and that's where a lot of waste money went because -- because when you have -- if this cost $10 and you have a $5, you going to do what's $5 for -- by the time you have $10 that's been changed you have to -- you understand what I mean?

STRONG: Mm-hmm.

ABDIN: I'm sorry; I don't know if it makes sense to you.

STRONG: No, it makes a lot of sense.

ABDIN: So that's why -- and the -- and -- and the -- the truth is what I see -- because I'm from birth till here. Majority of people who on the -- our executive board, they put it because they are senior, respected. They're not well educated; they're not well knowledge. And -- and that's why the situation -- 28:00even today I -- even if they finish this building, I doubt they will get CO [Certificate of Occupancy]. The reason is the time they did the architect, and they didn't finish it, the building law been changed, and this building should become this way, then slide and then go out. And actually they built it there so they have more spaces. They didn't care. They think it's like somewhere in a remote third world country; you can do whatever you want. You can built it and do it. But it's not anymore. Even they -- three month ago building department came, shut it down. It was closed for a month. Even this time they give 90 days to open it. After that they might close it again. Because now the building department more than certain -- and you have to put fire sprinkler. And fire sprinklers are so expensive; this community cannot afford it. There's no way they can afford it. And it's a huge building. But, you know, in a matter of 30 years of time spent here collecting they build that up. But because of less 29:00source of resource, lack of education, lack of qualification, that's why it's not finishing. And I don't know when it's finished. But I really hope that's finished and they get CO because this Al-Aman have a history, a history -- and this neighborhood and --

To my eye, I know at least -- in this small population, at least 10 people got shot and killed in this neighborhood. In my own knowledge and in my own experience I see -- even one of my friend. We were standing, and we heard the gunshot, and then -- we were talking; it was a gunshot, gunshot. Five minutes later I heard a friend got shot and he killed. So it's happening.

There's a street for which they named after Mizanur Rahman [phonetic]. People bullied. Then everybody got up, beat up, and then they came with a gun. They shoot the guy and killed. It's happening every -- last year -- every year somebody get killed. It -- that -- there's another [inaudible]. Who's next? So 30:00last year -- this year -- last year this imam got killed. Before that there was a guy got killed on -- about three block away from there. It's almost every years.

STRONG: And you said this is part of the history of the -- of the mosque?

ABDIN: Yeah. And they got picked because of Muslim. They got picked also as Bengali.

STRONG: How many people does the mosque serve when it's open?

ABDIN: Oh, that's a lot. That's a lot. If I tell you that -- that's way -- three times more than capacity.

STRONG: And I heard they sometimes use the park nearby as well?

ABDIN: Yeah. Yeah. Park. The empty parking lot -- every years we have a prayer about seven to ten thousand people. That's actually I do it. Our BACDYS organization. Because in our religion say, especially to Eid holiday, you should 31:00do it in an open space where everyone -- because -- we -- my father -- in our tradition we don't hug parents, brother every day. So Eid day after you go to prayer, you finish, you hug your brother regardless. All your neighbor, all your friend, you just hug. You seen that they hug each other. And that's why if everybody comes to one lot they pray and they hug. This is a good pray. And they should not give any -- any -- anything bad that me and you have disagree -- not -- we should not give any grudge on that day. If there's any grudge, any fight, any misunderstanding, after prayer you should forgive everybody. This is the way to go to heaven, because you cannot give that -- once you die you cannot do anything. So this is a -- I would -- I would like to show you a picture that is --


ABDIN: -- that will -- you will not believe it, but that's how much people. Here. [Pause] You cannot see from one end to another end. This is the empty 32:00parking lot.

STRONG: Oh, wow. It's just a sea of people.

ABDIN: Yeah, [laughter] a sea of people.

STRONG: And you definitely can't --

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: -- see at all where they end.

ABDIN: Yeah, yeah.

STRONG: You can see trees poking up behind them, but that's it.

ABDIN: Yeah. Yeah, right in -- one block away from the mosque that's -- you know, our organization decide, "You know what? They always have a problem." And I'm always young, so sometime in our society when you're young you're dumb and stupid. They won't listen. So I -- after -- that's why I opened BACDYS, you know, keep away from religion and help whatever they can.

And BACDYS became very popular because there's people having so much problem, little thing, and they burn inside. They don't know where to go and get help. So when we opened BACDYS people coming like pour. "Misba, you know, I have this situation." "Misba --" And the -- and we able to help them. And there's a lot of 33:00simple thing, you know. We -- I'm very proud of Community Board Five and elected officials -- elected officials come to us because we have the numbers and everything.

So anytime people come in this -- we try to help in our office. If we cannot help them we always call them and [tell them], "There you go. You probably need to go to that office. They will take care of --" Because one thing about New York City, they have almost all kind of agency out there to help. But he -- but they not -- those resource, a lot of people are not aware of it. And -- and it's not been commercial. And, you know, unless it's of profit, nobody tell you what to do and where to -- there's a lot of nonprofit -- there are millions dollars of funding, and they providing service, but they not reaching out. And New York City one of the hard-to-reach community. There's so much remote neighborhood. They just go to -- and it's tough because of the expensive. They work seven days, six days. One day they get off they got to do their laundry; they had other work. So they don't know where the -- so BACDYS is, like, open door for everybody.


STRONG: Tell me about starting that organization. How did you find a space?

ABDIN: [laughter] First I told you after my father passed away I went to Bangladesh. When I came back people are calling me in soccer, "Misba, this problem." My family got tired, you know, "Keep this problem out of the house. Please tell them -- tell your people not to come on 2:00 a.m., ring the bell, call the middle of the night." So I decide to open an office. I found one of my cousin own a house and he looking for rent. It's one bedroom, cheap. I said, "Why don't you give it to me?" So he listen; he gave it to me. I break the first apartment with my friends and everything, made it two office, conference room, and reception. And start -- open it. And -- and it just became a community center.

Because no -- and one thing about in Bangladesh once day sun rise, people open door -- their door and they got whole world. They not used to sitting inside 35:00like most Western -- you know, you're -- once you're home you're inside the house. But no. They -- once they open, they outside. Like if you go to country, [laughter] you know? So they have no place to go. So people come there -- that problem, this problem, citizenship application; they want to apply for their family; they have a tax problem; they have job problem. A lot of -- and also there's a lot of people don't have computer at home. Lots of people do have a computer, but they don't have internet. So this is one-stop source. They come for internet, computer, write a letter, send a letter, proofreading. So people, like, pouring -- and then -- and it's became so popular -- and not only Bengali community; now -- nowadays about 60% are not Bengali; 40% are Bengali. But it still is Bengali remote area. And -- and we grow.

The worst part, we don't get funding. Because honestly I'm not in this field. My father wasn't in this field. My whole generation -- I took the field just to help people. So most of the money came from my family, friends. I rob my 36:00friends. "Hey, come on, give me that money. I need to help this --" But one thing, everybody did help me. Community did help me. Especially I greatly thanks my brother, older two brother -- they always supported me. They know that -- money that I took I help people.

The only thing my brother don't like: They always give me money -- "Here. You have a kid and wife; do something for yourself." But instead I wish those money to help the community, and they say, "Okay. You know, you got to stop. Do have light, do have --" But I find -- I know one thing: End of the day I know my wife, my children, roof over their head. End of the day I know my freezer filled with the food. But I know people, they're crying, they couldn't able to pay their bills. The electricity will cut the line, or the house going to -- so I help them -- I lend them -- sometime they give me back, sometime I don't. But it just -- one thing: When I see people tears, it's like end to me. I will do 37:00anything for those people. And I can tell you, thousand people came to our -- walk into our office with a tear, and they walked [out] smiling. And the best part in my life, when the old or young who comes with the tear, and we help them, and they smile, and [take] my hand and say, "God bless you and the parents." And that's give me my joy. This is the best thing that I can give to my parents. And I still.

And -- and I always -- you know, I'm outgrown -- I did all -- everything. I'm a sportman. I was a street person. Big fight. I grew up with everything. But -- I went through hardship, but that's why I like to -- the what -- what I went through, I don't want those people to go through. And that's what I'm doing.

You can see those -- those -- right now the rent because of zone, economic development, the rent is so high, one-person income not enough to pay the rent and support the family. If those woman, they probably never went to school in Bangladesh. They took a step up coming, learning Spanish, a lot of people asking 38:00for job. We have a trade circle of 181 last three years -- 181 women graduated from our ESL class. I would say at least 30% got a job already. And they looking for job. And we also helping them job -- there's a lot of job that come and we push them. But lots of people not have qualified -- because the qualification are very low in our community.

But -- and all the services provide for them. We're not funded. We had a little funding from New York Foundation -- thanks; they are nice. But majority of funding from pulling from here, pulling from here. But we're working on it.

STRONG: One thing you told me about on the phone is that you're also active in organizing multicultural festivals and events like that?

ABDIN: Yes, same --

STRONG: Tell me about that.

ABDIN: -- same lot. Same lot, let me tell you. I think I do have some pictures I would like to show you. [Pause] Here. I have those -- let me see.


STRONG: Was that a Ferris wheel?

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: Oh, that's great!

ABDIN: Yeah. I do a multicultural thing. I have a lot of vendor, different kinds of Latino food, Caribbean food, Bangladeshi food, Asian food. And there's a lot of cultural clothing. Here. I bring all those kiddie rides to the --

STRONG: Teacups, Ferris wheel --

ABDIN: Yeah. Those are -- the reason I bring -- because this community, as I said, they cannot even have enough money to sustain themselves. They cannot afford to take their children to Luna Park or Great Adventure. So you know what I do, I [laughter] rob my family, friends, and spend our thirty to forty thousand in the neighborhood, bring all those rides into the neighborhood, and provide all the multicultural live event, dance -- what is it? -- cultural show 40:00plus -- what do you call -- uniform -- you know, what do you call -- miss -- not "miss" -- I just cannot find the word. So the main thing is to bring everybody in. So right now if I walked through the neighborhood and if a kid see me, they call, "Uncle." It doesn't matter what race, what color; they'll call me "Uncle." "Uncle, Uncle, when is the event?" Even they know it's in the summer. Because this is the only entertainment thing they get in summer. And it's not federal, not state, we fund it ourselves. Because the -- the kids are kid. They want to enjoy a ride. They see everything on TV. But, you know, they can't afford to go.

So -- and the most successful -- because of that we decreased I would say at least 50% of crime because -- as you know, New York, Latino speaking among themselves; Bengali speak among themselves; African Americans speak among -- they not create -- no one creating bridge, like, to do -- help know each other. 41:00Not state, not federal, not city again. So our organization bring five days multicultural event to create bridge between all different culture.

I had my own experience. One time was -- my wife was busy, so she -- she send me -- my son was crying; he want to go to ride. So I took him to the ride. So there's another lady, they -- her son was there. And she goes, "Hey, you know your son and my son classmate." So I found -- this is a very intere-- this is the way she had a chance to talk to me. So where everybody, all different culture, come to this kind of event, they enjoy, buy, share, they re-- and they meet each other. They find a -- a way to start conversations. And that -- because of that all the neighborhood come to -- now everybody know who lives in the neighborhood. And that makes the neighborhood safer. Now you see a lot of Latino going to Bengali's house, a lot of Bengali going to Latino house, a lot of Bengali going to African -- they are coming -- they became friend. And that's 42:00where our multicultural made that happen.

STRONG: That's great. And you said the services at BACDYS also reach more than just Bengali people.

ABDIN: Oh, yes.

STRONG: Tell me about staffing. Who works there?

ABDIN: Mostly volunteers and mostly part time. I do work in one of my [laughter] family's supermarket. The salary that I get, I use my salary to pay their salary. I -- one thing I don't have -- people have a goal: "I have money, buy new car, buy new house" -- I don't have that goal. I just enjoy being -- and I even enjoy -- there's a lot of educated, talented seniors out there, because of the country change that their -- their credential not valued in America, so they -- they have nothing. So I hire them. Right now I hired one journalist. He was an international journalist. He used to work for United Nation. So I say, "What are you doing?" "Nothing." "Come work for me and help this organization." And I'm paying him from my own salary. I'm helping.


And -- and -- and also I can say I have one of the greatest brother in the world. I'm 50 years old; they still supporting me. But one thing: They know what I'm doing is a noble work. And also they like it because what I do that's also give them a reputation. Everywhere they go, you know, "You're Misba brother," they get respected. Because I been helping all my life. [laughter] And -- and -- and we ha-- we do -- our numbers are so big anywhere that everybody knows us. So our family became, like, a pioneer in -- in not only in Brooklyn, East New York. If you go to Jackson Height, if you go to Astoria, anywhere in New York -- even globally -- they -- people know Abdin family. We are not rich. But one thing: For helping, noble work, we've been doing all -- even my brothers, you know, if people die in the neighborhood, people cannot afford to give them burial, we do help them bury them. People have cancer, they cannot have money to treatment, we do help them, whatever. We -- we help them. We -- our -- my -- I don't know. 44:00Thanks God, my brothers are like me. But they are more secured themselves than I am. I -- they have their insurance, but I don't. [laughter] I don't know -- if I die today, my family will be empty-handed tomorrow. But, you know. Tomorrow never know what happen. So I help -- what I think is -- need to be done today, I do it. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, so I wait for the next day, tomorrow. When tomorrow come I will think about tomorrow. That's me.

STRONG: I have another question that you reminded me of. Back in the '60s, '70s, '80s, when your father was here, and in the early days when you came, there weren't many mosques, as you said, to go to yet. But I imagine there wasn't access to Muslim funeral services.


STRONG: Did he help people connect with that at all?

ABDIN: I remember when I came in majority of the -- before that you would not find any Bengali cemetery or graveyard. Unless nobody there they bury it. The majority people -- after we came, anybody died, we raised money and send it back 45:00home. I would say 95% who died on those days, their bodies been sent to Bangladesh. They always -- because one thing in common in our culture, they always like to bury next to parents or family graveyard. Even nowaday because -- nowaday we have a cemetery in Long Island [inaudible] because now the kid who born in America, they never going to go back to Bangladesh for to bury them. So they rather stay here. So next to -- that's why now it is just slightly changing.


ABDIN: Even after '90s, I would say -- even after 2000 I'd say most of the people who died they used to send the body to back home, but now they don't do that.

STRONG: When your father died in '95 you brought his body back to be buried next to his parents.

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: Even though they'd had that falling out when he was young --

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: -- and then reconnected.

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: And you said -- is -- is that around the same time that you met your wife in Bangladesh?


STRONG: Tell me about meeting her.

ABDIN: It's not actually meeting. Actually it was arranged marriage. It was arranged marriage. They did show many -- and I was sick, and they -- you know -- 46:00I -- as I said earlier, I'm a very outgoing -- I'm not a person sit inside the thing, listen to the [inaudible]. I'm always outside hustling, do sport, do thing. I -- I'm the person who never sit down and do one thing. I'm not focused on that. I want life to experience -- like travel around, go play, no -- meet people, do things, and -- and they -- my family was -- my brother was scared. "If he go to America and Dad is not anymore, who going to control him? Let him get married." So -- [laughter]

STRONG: So who arranged the marriage?

ABDIN: Actually -- actually no, I did came back. But when I came back there was a lot of fight here. Lots of fighting. Even after the Mizanur Rahman got killed. Then my brothers said, "If you stay, you're going to get [inaudible]. Send him [back to] Bangladesh." And we have lot -- little problem, because my grandfather have a lot of property in back home, and it's been taken by people because nobody's there. So I went to Bangladesh to get all of my property back, and I 47:00able to bring those back. And I was organizing it, and while I was there my older brother and my stepmom were, and they said, "No, no, no, no. You have to get married. Who going to cook you? We're leaving to America. You got to stay here, take care of this problem, and somebody need to be there to cook you and take care of you." So they -- [laughter] got married there.

STRONG: So what was your first impression of her when you two met?

ABDIN: Shy. [laughter] Seriously. I never expected that I going to get married. It was a peer pressure in the situation. I don't know -- I couldn't even real-- I didn't even realize after a year later that I got married. It happened -- happened so quickly. I never -- it's like a blink. When did I give the permission to get married out there? [laughter] It's something like -- it's dream happened -- happened. [laughter] Yeah.

STRONG: And then she moved back to Brooklyn with you?

ABDIN: Yeah, yeah. I -- no, I -- I stayed there for four years because I have to come and apply for her. So I stayed there because it took four years. My 48:00grandfather had a lot of property. I have to settle this, organize -- now I made a structure; nobody can take it away from our family. So while I was there I got married. I had two daughter born in Bangladesh. They both are American -- because I'm an American citizen they are American citizen, but they born in Bangladesh. So 19-- then I got so much involved in Bangladesh. One of my older brother friend told me, "Keep Misba out of the country because if he stay, somebody might kill him." Because all the property that my grandfather had it, I took it forcefully. Some people -- and I'm all over. That's me. So they said, "They going to kill him. Take him back to America." So he send -- my immediate older brother, he went to Bangladesh. Second days, "Oh, Misba, wrap everything up. You're going back." [laughter]

So I -- and one thing I never -- never -- in our culture we never disrespect our older brother. If he is wrong or right, whatever they say, we keep and listen. And till today I didn't -- my brother come yell at me, I will listen. But one 49:00thing I can tell you: If I -- my one tear comes out, and I say, "I need $10,000. I need it," they'll give it to me, without thinking. Even if they don't have it, they'll borrow and give to me. We -- we are very --

STRONG: So what was it like bringing your new family back to the United States?

ABDIN: Yeah, got back, then I -- nothing because I'm -- I -- because all -- I grew up here most of life, so my friends are there, and our family owns Key Food, so a job is not a problem. I came here -- my brother have to force me, "Got to go run one of the Keys." So they send me the one in Brooklyn, [laughter] so I run there. Actually, I used to hang out, play all night, all evening. I used to go to the Key Food, go to my office, close my door, watch the camera -- I never actually watched camera. I just laid down and sleep while I was a kid. [laughter]

So I -- my daughter was three or four. I put her on pre-K, then kindergarten, 50:00and then [inaudible]. That's how. And then when I came in first day people say, "You missed -- so many things happen," this and that. Okay, I'm back. So people start coming back again and again and again and again. Finally decide to open BACDYS. There's a few people who did help me with the BACDYS. Was Darma Diaz. She is Latino. She used to work for our congressman, Ed [Edolphus] Towns [Jr]. And the second person I would say Campbell Walter. He used to be district manager of Community Board Five. He's still working at the [inaudible]. Once he retired I told him to come. Actually, he'd been volunteering, working for it because he support my mission. I help helpless people. That's why he supports the -- his six days he come in, volunteer, help people. Because he -- he's a very religious person. He's a Catholic. And he -- he support my mission, what I do, and that's why he come and volunteer with me and help everybody.


STRONG: So it's not just multicultural partnerships; it's -- it's interfaith partnerships.


STRONG: Tell me a little bit about how that works.

ABDIN: You see, my -- BACDYS is behind Darma Diaz. She's a Protestant, and Mr. Walter is a Catholic. One thing about -- once the Thanksgiving come I can say initially I give more turkey than anybody, because we own a supermarket. And -- and also -- and my -- our religion -- some people -- always the -- the biggest culprit in my experience -- because I'm a -- I'm a person who deal with reality, not book smart. I'm in reality. The biggest culprit in our society: our fathers, our imam, and the pundit. Because they give him all the misinformation. Because here you are Liz, I'm Misba, right? You have nothing harm to me, and I have nothing harm to you. Why should we hate each other? Do you see anything? And 52:00that's why. Because I have a friend, Mr. Walter, he's Catholic. If he take bullet for me, I can take bullet -- and Darma Diaz also take my bullet for me. We are human being. We love each other. The religion's your personal belief. And I always say -- you're a Christian, right?

STRONG: No. I have -- I have no religion in particular.

ABDIN: Okay. Say you're -- say you're a Christian. Or say you're X, and I'm Muslim. Say Mr. Walter, he's a Catholic. His grandfather was a Catholic, his grandfather was Catholic, he'd been raised Catholic and has been told that the best religion in the world is Catholic, right? And he died. My grandfather was Muslim, my father was Muslim, now I'm a Muslim, and my family believe Muslim is the best religion, and I die. End of the day, if Catholic was right, and [inaudible], how God going to justify that I never had a opportunity to learn what Catholic? If I'm right, and he died, how going to justify him, that he was wrong? He never had a opportunity to know what Muslim is. So how you going to justify? That's my own opinion. How you going to justify all those religion always say, "Christian is better, Muslim is better, Jewish is better" -- how you 53:00going to justify? People who born as a Jewish and he dies Jewish, he don't know anything about Muslim. The guy who was a Christian and born as a Christian, die as a Christian. And how God going to justify all three people? Which one is right? Who can guarantee that say, "I'm right?" Everybody say, "I'm right." But how you can guarantee you're right? Do anyone can prove it? Because I know a lot of people -- I'm a Muslim, everybody's a Muslim, and I'm proud to represent my religion. And I learn we have the best one, and I follow, because that's was my -- my father gave me a burden, and I'm here, and I support him. But my question is: How you going to justify who's right?

So that's never came. And we've discussed it, but we sit down, we gossip, talk, we bully -- they bully me. I'm a Muslim terrorist. I tell them that -- we do bully everything. We do it in fun. It's a joke. You know. But end of the day, we love each other, and we take -- and that's how we are in the community. That's 54:00how -- you know, and -- and a lot of people do not understand. And -- and -- and -- and that's where the -- and -- and I -- I see most of the thing is the lack of education.

And also I see all the government the foreign policy. But they not doing anything to prevent that situation. Even -- I don't know politics, but what I see, I read and see. Who's mujahideen? You create it. Even ourself, I'm American, I say, "We created him to fight Russia." When they done with the Russia they turn against us. Who's other group? What's the new group called? Same thing. We help them to fight -- who the -- Saddam Hussein. Now they against us. We are the one who created monster, not them. [laughter] We are.

So that's where the -- but first always say -- I don't know who say, he say, "Everything start from home." I'm not big person, I'm not -- I'm not running the 55:00country, I'm not running the world, but I'm running my neighborhood, and I'm doing every means possible to how I can help. I just want to be a part of help. And I want to be there when they need it. I want to be there when they having joy. And my joy is when I help them. This is my joy. When they have joy, happy party, they enjoy -- this is their joy. But everybody have different task, way of life enjoy. I enjoy what I'm doing.

STRONG: Tell me, what do you -- what do you hope East New York will be like in 10, 50, a hundred years?

ABDIN: Not for the next five years East New York will be -- is going to be like New York City. The reason which I know, rezoned it. And also East New York is only 5 to 10 minutes away from JFK. It's also 30 from Manhattan. So it's one of the most convenient place, and it's been rezoning. All those big developers buying it, overpaying the land. Developer has been taking over.


The New York -- the East New York people, this time, I bet you, were not -- in my own experience -- you were not able to walk in the neighborhood. And this time of our -- and you can -- right now you can walk middle of the night, not going to be any problem. New York used to be one of the worst city in the America, one of the most worst gang. Even the Pink Houses -- the most of the Bengali got killed because of the NYCHA [New York City Housing Authority] Pink Houses. People used to mug -- in my lifetime I can stand middle of East New York and say at least one or two people get mugged every day in East New York. Just the one corner of East New York, I'm talking about in the city, and forget about the rest of it. There's a -- 50% of people [inaudible] by mugging. And they -- I know -- I know it is, beside Bengali, I see a lot of people got shot and killed. You never even -- it's not on the newspaper, not on TV. Now anything happen it's on the TV. Even the other day the somebody hit and run killer -- it's on TV, all over TV. Before? I seen a lot of people got shot and killed. You never hear on 57:00the newspaper, nothing. They just [inaudible].

STRONG: In recent years -- I'm thinking about 2016, when there was the -- the killing of the imam -- the community was very activated. There was protests and things like that. Did you find that that kind of action became more frequent as there're more and more --

ABDIN: I'm sorry? Can you repeat that?

STRONG: So in 2016, when the imam was shot, there were protests; there were people engaged in action; city officials had to come and answer questions. That kind of engagement -- did that grow over the years as more --

ABDIN: Oh, it had been grow much -- it grow -- it had been happen before. But it was a corner; nobody care. There -- there's a two problem in our East New York side. Actually -- I don't want to be on this on record, but I just want to say it to you --

STRONG: Oh, then let me pause it.

[Interview Interrupted.]

STRONG: Okay, we're back. If you don't mind answering this question on the 58:00record, have you done any outreach to the 75th Precinct, and have community relations with the police gotten any better over the years?

ABDIN: I -- I was -- I was in community precinct council for around eight years. But I walked out; I left.

I want to share the [incident]. One time there was a -- one gentleman had a stroke, and he died. The family and two daughter and a son went to a shelter. So all the neighborhood community came there. "Nice family, why don't you -- they can work. Why don't you help them bring out from the shelter?" So I rent the apartment under my name. I brought them up. I gave two daughter a job; they working. And after husband died the mother have little depression. So 1:00 at the night, or two o'clock, they call me on my cell phone. "Mom woke up screaming and cursing everybody out." So I get up. I came. I see she -- when depression she curse me out; she don't want to -- she want to kill everybody. So I call 911 for ambulance. So before -- and you have to tell ambulance, "911; what's the 59:00problem?" "I think she is when -- depression; we need ambulance right away."

So a cop came. I opened the door. I opened the door, and the cop -- I brought them upstair. Then he goes, "Who are you?" I say, "I'm Misba. I'm a community person. I came to help them." Cop grabbed me and threw me out, and "Get the 'F' out of this room."

No, that -- before that, the kid -- small kid -- you know, Mom is Mom. [inaudible]. They came, put the handcuff on her. I said, "She's re-- she's not that strong, you don't need to handcuff. But yeah, calm down, relax, I can tell." They go, "Who are you? 'F' out of this house." They threw me out. That's how they behave.

After I went to the precinct I complained to inspector. I told him the community meeting, precinct council. They didn't do nothing. They never apologized. And that day over 200 people came, want to fight with the police officer. I told them, "No. Leave it alone." That's how 75th Precinct [is]. So after seven years 60:00of running precinct council, even they have -- and I'm a figure. I'm a founder of organization, I'm a founder of the mosque, and I'm the community person -- I would say 90% of the community know -- they didn't even give me a shit about me. But they think they going to give care about other people? Excuse my language, but --

STRONG: No, that's fine.

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: I'm thinking, when you talk about the rezoning and, you know, these giant buildings that are going to go up and the property prices, where do you think people will go? What will happen to this community?

ABDIN: It -- it's a nightmare. Nightmare. I would say right now 50% Bengali lives in illegal basement because basement used to go for $800 to $1000. Because of rent right now, basement is goes for $2000.

STRONG: [whispers] Oh, geez.

ABDIN: And they -- and one basement, like seven, eight people sharing it. Because -- excuse me. The minimum wage with three, four children, people are -- you have no idea. We talk about a wall? There's people in my neighborhood 61:00sleeping hungry. They're not getting enough nutrition a day, working just to meet their rent. I know people. People come here, "Misba, can you give me a part-time --" I say, "You working." "But not enough. I cannot even buy stuff; I cannot even my -- pay my rent." I can say it. I can bring at least 10 people right now that they owe me money because they couldn't pay their rent. I have to help them out. One come -- and one thing, I have a bad habit: I can't say no. And if I have full pocket I cannot lie. And I give them. Some people do return it. I'm broke as hell too. But when I see people there I forget my own pain. And that's the best thing -- that's what my family hate me about. "Misba, first you, first you." But one thing I cannot see tear. When people in pain, I just can't. Can't. I help them. But I know if I fall I have too many people to grab. Because if they fall nobody there to grab them.

STRONG: Any last thoughts? Anything you'd like people listening to this 62:00recording to understand about your life?

ABDIN: There's so many -- I know my tears already coming. There's so many story that if I tell people, tear will come automatically. It just -- that's a shame that we live one of the greatest countries the world and people living here, they not able to meet their daily needs, to support their children. And even -- and even the school system, I said, there's so many brilliant students. And one thing, we are -- our school system is so bad, but still, yet up to 50% of the kids go into specialized high school, middle school. Lot of people cannot able to support their daily needs, but they make sure save money to send their children to better tutoring so they do good, so they have a better future. Pretty much that's why you can see there's a lot of Bengali kid in school; they're doing really well. Excuse me.

STRONG: It's all right.

ABDIN: Yeah.

STRONG: All right. I think we'll leave it there, unless there's --


ABDIN: Yes, yes.

STRONG: -- anything else I should have asked you.


STRONG: Thank you so much. Thank you for your stories and for your time.

ABDIN: Sure.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Misba Abdin

Misba Abdin was born in 1969 in Beanibazar, Bangladesh. He immigrated to the United States with his family in 1982 and settled in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. Shortly after arriving, he organized a series of local soccer tournaments called the Bangladesh Football Federation (later renamed to Bangladesh Sports Council). He married his wife in 1995 and later founded the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services (BACDYS) in East New York in 2011.

In this interview, Misa Abdin discusses his family; his life in Beanibazar, Bangladesh; and his immigration to the United States. He expands on his experiences in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn over the years, including his organizing a local series of soccer tournaments called the Bangladesh Football Federation (later renamed the Bangladesh Sports Council); his ongoing involvement with the local mosque his father co-founded, Masjid Al-Aman; and his founding the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services (BACDYS). He also speaks about his encounters with violent crime and the New York City Police Department; Islamophobia; and racism. Interview conducted by Liz H. Strong.

This collection includes oral histories conducted and arranged by Brooklyn Historical Society in 2018. The interviews reflect varying approaches to religious observance among Muslim Brooklynites in relation to a wide range of communities and traditions within Islam, including Sunni, Shi'i, Sufi, Nation of Islam, W. D. Mohammed community, Five Percent, Dar ul Islam, and Ansaarullah. Collectively, there is particular focus on cultural and religious customs, practices, and gender roles within these communities; education and the arts; immigration from South Asia and the Middle East; the Nation of Islam; Islamophobia in the wake of the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as well as after the 2016 presidential election; political activism and engagement; and community relations with law enforcement and government officials.


Abdin, Misba, Oral history interview conducted by Liz H. Strong, December 17, 2018, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.53; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Abdin, Misba
  • Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services (Brooklyn, New
  • Bangladeshi Sports Council of America (New York, N.Y.)
  • Masjid Al-Aman (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department
  • York, N.Y.)


  • Bangladeshis
  • Child rearing
  • Community organization
  • Cultural pluralism
  • Education of children
  • Hate crimes
  • Immigrants
  • Islamophobia
  • Police-community relations
  • Racial profiling in law enforcement
  • Religious pluralism
  • Social service


  • Beanibazar (Bangladesh)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • East New York (New York, N.Y.)


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Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories