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Firoza Akter

Oral history interview conducted by Liz H. Strong

January 22, 2019

Call number: 2018.006.56

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STRONG: Today is Tuesday. It is January 22nd, 2019. My name is Liz Strong. I'm here for the Brooklyn Historical Society's Muslims in Brooklyn project. I'm here with Firoza Akter, and tell me a little bit about yourself. When and where were you born?

AKTER: In the name of God, the most beneficent and most merciful -- so I would like to start by the name of God, by thanking him. I was born in Bangladesh, in a very, you know, rural area, you could say in a village. I guess, until five years, I was there, and then, after that, I moved to a suburb area, where my parents actually brought me for education and stuff. So my mom was a very, you know, hardworking lady. She was very concerned about our education. So my father used to be abroad for working, and my mom was the one who was taking care of 1:00everything, so she brought us in a suburb area, and there I started to go to school. Well, I started school in the village also, but that maybe for one year or something, and then my real school started when I moved in the suburb. From five years to sixteen, I was there. Until my 10th grade, actually, I was there. And then I moved in city, which is called Dhaka in Bangladesh. There, I started my 11th grade and 12th grade. We called it college in that -- in Bangladesh. And after that, I was there until my marriage and before -- you know, until I came here, I was there. So I finished my -- I mean, my 11th grade, 12th grade, and then I started doing my bachelor and my master's in Bangladesh, from chemistry, and then I moved here.

STRONG: Tell me a little bit about your parents, your siblings. What was your family like?


AKTER: My parents -- my mom, she got -- she was -- she got married when she was 17, and she was in 11th grade, I think, 11th or something. Maybe she was in the middle of her 12th grade or something. At that age, she got married to my father. And then I guess my father was still working in the country, but after a few years, he moved, you know, outside of the country for his work. And we have six siblings. Actually, we had seven. My firstborn of my parents was a twin, and first one died, actually. I mean, one of them died, when he was three months or something, and then we are six of -- six of us are alive. And four brothers, and two sisters. My mother is the one, actually, who was teaching us and everything, because she was in the middle of her college, and at that time she got married, and she moved in my father's house. So she has to take care of my grandfather, 3:00because my grandfather was very old. He was like -- he couldn't see. He was blind at that moment. I think he was more than 70 years old, maybe, or something. So he couldn't see, and there was no one to take care of him. Well, there was some maid or something in Bangladesh to take care of her, but -- him -- but you need someone to really take care of that, so she has to take care of my grandfather.

So my mom was supposed to continue her education. She brought her, you know, books and everything with her, but unfortunately she couldn't. But she was very, you know -- she was -- she had a very good concern about the education of us. So she was thinking that it's impossible for her to continue our education in that rural area, because, you know, certain things maybe was not that much good atmosphere. Environment was not that good, and people are not that much educated. You know, that was the system of that -- of the country. Education didn't reach you know, very rural part of the country. So that's what she 4:00decided, like, she has to move. So she moved in -- and it was a struggle for her, you know, because when -- it was -- our family was -- even though everyone was outside -- my uncles, my aunt -- everyone was living in different part of the country, but when they made decisions, since my father was not here, it was hard for her. But thanks God, she made the decision, and she moved with us. By the time, my grandfather died also, so she didn't have to think about, like, who she's going to take care of now.

So she moved with us, and she started to put us, you know, in kind of those -- in those areas, the education was developed, you know. One of my uncles, he actually established a school where they had English and other part -- other educational system was a little bit developed than the regular one. So we used to study the regular governmental books, you know, the assigned book, and beside 5:00those, we also used to study the higher level of English and other stuff, too. So even Arabic, too, other languages, too, and those are also good at, you know, teaching about religious, being a good moral -- with morality and everything. So that was -- that actually helped us, you know, to shape our life and everything. So that was a really good -- big struggle, and she did it.

So I think -- I remember I was talking to my kids yesterday, or the day before yesterday, that my father -- until I was 16, my father was not with us for long time. He came every year. He had vacation for 45 days or something, so he used to come every year to spend time with us after our final exam of the year. We had a huge, like -- in wintertime, in Bangladesh, so the session started from January to, you could say, December or November, so that is the wintertime. We had the vacation in that time. So my father used to come at that time to visit us. We used to have fun with him. And then he had to come -- went back -- you 6:00know, go back to his -- for his work. When I was 16, he finally, you know, quit his job there, and then he came in Bangladesh. So that's the time my father and mother, you know, started to live together for a long time. Other than that, they were, like, here for a few days together, and then my father, you know, went back to his work like that. So she had a huge contribution for, for building us, preparing us for future, for education, for our morality, for religious studies. Everything, I would say. It's a huge struggle for her, and she did it. She did a wonderful job, and I still tell her, you know, "Mom, we didn't pay you back. You did a lot for us." But -- they live in London now, but we can't do anything for them now. I'm very far away from them now. And -- yeah.

And then I moved to Dhaka for my higher studies, and that's also a hard 7:00struggle, because she wanted to be, me and my other siblings, you know, to be more educated and, you know, established in their, in their life. Do something good, better, in their life. So one of my brother and my -- I think two of my brothers and me, we lived in Dhaka for education, and others, also, they're studying. One was studying in other area, which is a little bit harder than where we are living. My sister, other sister, was -- she was also studying in this area, in degrees -- she was doing her bachelor, too. So three of us were in Dhaka, and rest of them were in -- with my mother. I mean, no, one of -- one was in the -- he was living in dorm, and two of them were with them. So used to go, you know, during the vacation time, like our holiday time, our Eid holidays -- so we used to go there, and then have fun with them, and then again come back.

I was living with my uncle, my maternal uncle, my paternal uncle, because they 8:00were living in Dhaka. So I didn't live in a dorm for education, but at first I was living with my maternal uncle, because my college where I used to go, it was closer than -- closer to his house. And then he had a problem in his workplace, and then he moved. So then I went to one of my -- cousin, actually, my, my oldest uncle's daughter, and she's actually the eldest sister of the family. So I used to live with her for a few days, to continue my education. Then I moved in one of my other cousin, which is my -- one of my second uncle's son. I lived there for a few days -- few months -- for my education. And then I moved in my uncle's house, my father immediate youngest brother, and there I continued my bachelor.

And when I was in the final year of my bachelor, I got married, and then my mom, 9:00and the whole family, then moved in Dhaka. So then I moved to my -- started to live with my -- but our house and my uncle's house was close, the house we rented. So my mom was living there. And then I finished my master's, and then, at the end of my master's, I conceived with my first baby, after my marriage. And then my daughter was born in 2005, and then, when she was -- I mean, after her born, I got the visa for USA, and then we moved with her here. My husband went to -- right before my -- right before her birth -- she was born on 31st December, and my husband went there on 28 December. And then, with the baby, me, my husband, and the baby, we moved here.

STRONG: Tell me how you met your husband.

AKTER: I didn't meet [him] before. I mean, I -- I mean, not before, before. I 10:00met [him] at the day of our engagement -- I mean, him. I'm sorry. My uncle and one of my brother-in-law, they used to know him, because he was studying in university in Bangladesh. So one of my brother-in-law and him was studying the same universities. That's how they knew each other, and they're involved in student organization, like, you know, they work in here, so they were, like, very close to each other. And they knew as -- you know, both of them as a very good person, and knew the morality and characteristics, and as students, and everything. And also, my uncle, he actually came here to visit, you know, for some reason, and then he met him, and then he found him very good. So both of them, together, they decided to send the proposal, so our parents and -- I mean, they took my, you know, resume and my pictures and everything. I sent to him, 11:00and he sent everything off with him. And then, before he -- he was here, because he came here in 1999. He was -- he was, I think -- he finished his bachelor there, and after that, he came here.

So before he go to Bangladesh, he went around -- he actually called me. He actually called me. I was in my aunt and uncle's house, right, I say. So he called my uncle's house, and then my aunt picked the call, and my aunt -- he said that he wanted to talk to me. So we spoke on the phone, and then he went to Bangladesh, and then we met in my house. He came. And then we met, and we spoke, what he's expecting, what I'm expecting. And we knew our background from our 12:00families, since, you know, my brother-in-law and my uncle knew him. And also, the people, you know, the area he used to live, he was born -- so some famous people, you could say, or some knowledgeable people, them and my uncle, they were very good friend. So through them, they also checked some background of him, and he also checked some background of me, through my brother-in-law and stuff. So -- and we met, and then that day, we had our engagement, and I think after one month or something, we got married.

STRONG: Tell me about that first conversation, about what his expectations were and your expectations.

AKTER: He was expecting -- I forgot a few conversations. I remember one. Even though they don't live in a joined family, but he asked me, "Are you interested -- are you okay with a joined family?" So I said, "Yes. Ours is same. Even though we don't live in a joined family, but we -- our family is still like a joined, you know. Like, my uncle comes in our house, and we go in their house. Other uncles, aunts, everyone come. Everyone have very good relationships." And I said, "Yeah, I'm okay with that." And he also asked me some verses from Qur'an, to recite some verses from Qur'an, because he had a very good concern. Like, he said, like, before he's married, he made, you know, lots of prayer to 13:00God, like he need a good wife. And he said, "I said, 'God, I don't want to struggle after my marriage.'" So he need a, he need a very good wife, so that wife could help him throughout his life. He wanted to know what is my expectation and something. I think we also spoke over something about education or something. I forgot. Um, I forgot. Pretty much maybe it. Something else, I forgot. It's been -- we got married in 2002. Sixteen years.


AKTER: Yeah.

STRONG: So tell me, then, about the transition to the United States. You said it took a few years. He was already here. Was he going back and forth?

AKTER: Yeah, he was going back and forth. So we got married at 2002, and after 14:00that, I was, I think, in the middle of my master's. I guess he went once. And then again he came back. And I think I was in my final exam of my master's, he went there again. Or -- yeah, he went, I think, three times. So before, in the middle, and then again, after my -- after finishing my master's. And then I got pregnant, and then he came here, and then again before the baby born. So yeah, it was -- well, without the husband, it's, it's kind of sad, but we used to talk a lot. That time, email and those was not available, but the phone was available, so we used to talk a lot. And when he went there, he used to live for maybe -- stay for three months or two months, so used to go different places, and his parents' house, because even after my marriage, I was still staying in my parents' house, since my studies was continuing. And it's a good thing, is like, his family, and even he himself -- no one forced me, like, "You have to 15:00stay in our house" or stuff, because since I was studying, it's a very -- it was -- for me, it was very important that I stay in the place where I was, to continue my college and my study. So yeah, I was in Dhaka, and then he went, and then we used to go -- even before, without him, I also went to my mother-in-law's house, to visit my mother-in-law. You know, other -- his sisters and all of them.

STRONG: So was it always the plan that you would come and settle here with him, or did you think that he might go --?

AKTER: No, it was the plan, I will come here and, you know, settle here, yeah.

STRONG: What were your expectations of Brooklyn like from his descriptions?

AKTER: He didn't, he didn't tell that this is very, I would say, posh, or, you 16:00know, it's very developed or something. He didn't say something like -- anything like that. But you know, when people live outside of the world and think about America, they feel like, oh, we're so, I don't know, glorious and, you know -- how to explain it? It's, like, sparkling everywhere, something like that. [laughter] I don't know what should I say. But it's not like that. Right? The reality is not like that. So when I came here first, it was winter. I came here at, I think, 2006, in February -- 22nd February, I guess. So it was, like, 17:00snowing, and then no leaves in the trees, and the areas were not, like, the way I expected. I was like, okay. And then he rent an apartment for me. Actually, the brothers who was here, because he was in Bangladesh and we were coming together, so he contacted them, we need a house -- I mean, apartment -- to live, and they rent an apartment for us. So I think it's the next block, maybe. The apartment was big. I was only with the baby, and this is my first time. If I am hear -- if I hear some sounds, I was, like, scared or something. And leaving everyone in Bangladesh, it's kind of very sad.

So first we came, we had nothing. Nothing to sleep. I remember we brought a mattress with us, because -- and then we put it on the floor, and then we started to sleep in there, me and the baby, and the baby has the bassinet, and we started to put the baby in the bassinet. Someone -- one of the brother, he presented the bassinet for the baby, so baby was living in the bassinet, and then we were on the floor for, I think, one month. And then we moved from that house to other apartment, and, you know, then we started to buy the beds and 18:00tables and everything. Started a new life. It was hard for me, because I didn't know how to cook, because I was busy with the study and everything. My mother didn't pay attention for cooking and stuff. She's like, "You guys need education. Need to establish in your life and stuff." So I was not good at cooking, and, you know, the first-time baby, also, it was struggle, and the baby was very hard, too. You know, she used to not eat that much. She used to not -- she was not -- it's not easy to feed her like that. And when my husband leave the house, only me and my daughter.

So I remember, in the neighborhood, one of the ladies -- she still lives here. She's very older, but since my husband was the imam of this mosque, you know, everyone in the neighborhood know him. But one thing my husband told me before I come here, he's like, "You are not going to feeling that -- feel that lonely, because you already have an environment there." Because people know him, you know. In Bangladesh, the area where I born, there are so many people here from 19:00that area. They live here. Even though I don't know them, because I moved from that -- my father's, you know, land. But still, they know my father, because as a family, our family was very well-known in that area. You know, if you go to a rural area, everybody knows everyone, right? So my uncle was a very well-known figure in there, my father, and even my grandfather was very respected people. You know, people used to respect him a lot. They used to, you know, love him a lot. So, in that sense, everyone knew my family. Even though I don't know the people, but they knew -- since they knew my family, they actually loved me a lot. They actually, you know, accepted me in a very good way, and, you know, loving way. So he said me that, "You already have an environment." That's the, that's the, you know, positive thing. He told me that, "You're not going to feel lonely there."

So when I came here, well, it's winter. Wintertime, people can't go from here to there because -- it was the first time I came here. I don't know places. But I remember a lady, she, she used to live, I think, two house after me. Every day, 20:00I went to her house, and even though she's an old lady, it's like I found her very close to me. I left everyone there. She had two little -- two or three little daughters, I think, at that time, and my daughter was a baby, too, and those girls were playing with my daughter, and I was -- you know, I used to talk with her. So every time I felt lonely or something, I went to her house. A long time I stayed in her house, and maybe when my husband was going back home, he used to pick me up from there and everything. Even Sharmin's [Hoque] house. Sharmin's father, and my husband -- Sharmin's father also involved in the masjid, I think she told you. So they were very -- even my husband, Sharmin's father, they used to live in the same apartment when they didn't get married. You know, all of them were single. [laughter] So they had a very good relationship.


First time when I came here, the house, I went one of my brother -- one of our brother -- and then I went to Sharmin's house. I think two nights or three nights, I stayed in their house. Yeah, so they're -- her, you know, family, you know, they truly cared about -- cared us very much. So I used to go to their house, too, with my daughter, and stayed for whole day, and then at night I used to come back. But thanks God that people accepted me, and they loved me, they cared me, and so I -- even though it was sad, but at some point, it was very good, because I was involved with them. And also that, I think Sharmin told you, the Muslim Ummah of North America [MUNA] halaqas. So we have to -- you know, we have gatherings, like maybe every week or weekend, so that the sisters used to 22:00come together, sit, and you know, start to discuss about Qur'an, and the Prophet's words, and, you know, religious talk. And also, you know, at the same time, they're socializing. They're talking to each other. "How is your family? How is your kids? How is your" -- you know, "What's going on with you?" If there is any problem, they come and, you know, help you. So and that -- I, you know, started to get involved with those, and then I became very busy.

STRONG: Busy with what? What kind of projects? Or were you visiting people's homes to support? What was going on?

AKTER: So let's say, let's say maybe this week, the sisters are having some kind of gathering. Maybe next week, they say, "Okay, we are going to have gathering in other place." So I went there. The other day, maybe we were having a party or something. So that's how -- you know. And then in summers, "Let's go, everyone, together in the park," and inviting each other, and this kind of gathering, you know, almost every month, every week. So every weekend, maybe we see each other. After, I think, nine months, I got pregnant again with my little -- second one. So it became another horrible part of my life, anyway. But then my son born 2007, in July, so now I became busy with them, too. My life is already busy in 23:00the house. And also with the sisterhood in the neighborhood. One of the auntie -- I still call her auntie -- she used to live next to my apartment, in the same floor, but used to live next-door. She used to help me with the kids, you know. My daughter used to go there, and my daughter called them grandparents. My son and my daughter used to call them their grandparents, and they cared about our children very much.

And also, I had -- I have a school classmate here. So I -- we didn't meet for 10 years. The day I went to Sharmin's house, they knew each other, so Sharmin's mom 24:00called her and told her that, you know, "Your friend came," and she knew that my -- because since they know my husband, so they knew who he got married and everything, because back home, everyone know each other. So she knew that he got married to me, but I don't know her, because it's been 10 years. I didn't see her. So she came. She's like, "Me, I'm this and this." I'm like, "Who is this?" And then I -- oh, she told her whole name, and then I was like, "Oh, you are" -- because now, after 10 years, she changed -- she has, now, two kids and everything. I also changed, you know. But, like, after coming here, we became very good friends. We became very good, and then very close to each other, the families and everyone. So, you know, coming back and forth, their house, they come to my house. Now we all got involved in so many things, you know. Fun activities, and also discussion about religious stuff. How to, you know, develop our life, what you could do better in the society, how could you help the neighborhood, everything.

STRONG: Tell me about the history of that Muslim Ummah organization. When did it 25:00get started, and what was the --

AKTER: Excuse me.

STRONG: That's all right.

AKTER: Muslim Ummah started, I think, in 1990s. Some of the Bengali brothers, Bangladeshi brothers, they thought that, you know, our Muslim brothers should come together, you know, to practice a better life. Basically, their goal is to, you know, please God by doing good deed, good works, and helping the neighborhood, teaching people to do good deeds, to do social work, having good relationships with the neighborhoods, different faith people, different organizations. Educating people, organizing them to do good deeds. So they came together and, you know, established the organizations, Muslim Ummah of North America. And since then -- you know, it's now 2018 -- it's, I think, 28 years.

STRONG: And it's grown to be more than just this neighborhood, right?

AKTER: Yeah.

STRONG: Can you tell me about that?

AKTER: It's in, it's in all over -- it's in the whole United States, but not every state they have work. But it's a nonprofit dawah organization, basically. 26:00So inviting people to do good, and to give up the bad, basically. So in here, in, like, Manhattan, Jamaica, Queens, Brooklyn East, and Brooklyn West area, where the Church [Avenue] McDonald [Avenue], and those area -- Astoria, Bronx -- all the boroughs, they have work. All the boroughs, they have brothers who are working, women are working, and then the sisters, young -- we call it Young Sisters of MUNA, and MUNA Youth, the brothers -- I mean, the boys' side -- youth side of the thing, and the children's sections also. The children are, you know -- we are gathering the children and teaching them to be good and stuff, and 27:00also teach them the cultural stuff. You know, teach them song, poem, art, storytelling, those stuff. So basically, you know, instead of doing the bad things, or -- especially in the youth life -- when kids are in teenage life, they don't know what to do, and there is a very good possibility of falling in danger, doing the bad stuff. So at that moment -- excuse me -- our goal is to, you know, gather them, discussing the good about life, and encouraging them to do good deeds, and forbidding them not to do, you know, bad things, and encouraging them to do some social activities to please God.

STRONG: So you focus on working with teenagers, is that right?

AKTER: Yeah. I also work with the children's section, too.


AKTER: So sometimes if they need help in the children's section, I also go there, and I also work with the -- like, not only for teenagers. It starts from teenage up to college level or whatever. And if the women also need some help, I could also help them. So we are like a big family, basically. So whoever need help, we go to help. If we have a national program, national event, we all work 28:00together to make the event, you know, successful and everything.

STRONG: Can you give me an example of what, what you do, what you teach, or, you know, if there's any person in particular you've worked with that you've been able to see --

AKTER: So --

STRONG: -- their point of view change?

AKTER: Yeah. So let's say, last month, we had an event where we made food. We worked with an -- I don't know if you have heard about the Hunger Van. There is, I think -- some people, they made an -- I don't know if it's an organization or something. They actually feed people, feed the hungry people. We worked with them, and they came with some dry food. Peanut butter -- I mean, not peanut butter. They came with butter, and then -- what do you call it? Hummus, and also some salad. So we made them sandwiches, and then we made them some dry foods, 29:00like trail mix. Cranberries and those stuff -- seeds, those. And then also tomatoes and salad. So we made food with the girls. So we invited -- like, okay, we are going to have an event, and it's called the Hunger Van event. So whoever wants to volunteer, come together. We are going to make food, and we are going to distribute food in the neighborhood. So I think we did it in November, in here, in the basement. So all the girls came. More than 25 girls, I think, they volunteered. They prepared food. And then, after that, we took this food. We went to Euclid [Avenue] subway, and one group went to Grant [Avenue] subway, and they distributed food to whoever came. Even though the goal is to feed the hungry people, but we don't always -- we can't ask people, like, "Are you hungry?" or "Do you need food?" so we actually distributed it to all the people, and everyone appreciated it.

And I mean, this way, they also felt very good. They also felt that -- because 30:00in Qur'an, God said that if you feed -- you should feed the hungry people, and the reward -- God will give you the reward. We don't look for reward from the people. It's not that you give someone food so they're going to give some -- they are going to do something in return for you. Our -- your reward is going to come from God. That's what we believe, and that's what God said in Qur'an. So the girls are very encouraged, and they did -- made the food, and they felt very happy that they're part of it, they're feeding the hungry people. And so in that time, what -- that time, what they are going to do. If they don't do that things, they're going to be with the phone -- busy with the phone, or watching some movies, or maybe going outside doing something which might good -- which might not be good. But instead of doing that, engage in some good work, and you are getting -- and also socializing. You know, when 25 girls come together, they're also talking to each other, making friendship with them, building a very good connection with them. And then they went outside, and until, I think, 7:00 31:00pm or something, they distributed those food, and finished distributing everything, and they are so happy.

That was one of the project, and also, I actually work with a zone where -- and at the zone, we have, like, so many different subchapter areas, so different sisters from different areas. Also -- I also go to them, and then check how they need to work, what kind of help they need. I also try to help them, too. Last year, in March, I think, March or April, we did mothers-daughters event. So we 32:00did one in here. We also did one in Church McDonald area. So this was the first event we did. We had been planning for a -- to do a mother-daughter event, but we couldn't make it. But last year, we made it, and the mothers were appreciating it. The girl -- you know. It created a bond. Mothers and daughters are crying. It's like huge, emotional, you know, point, because most of the time, we are very busy. Kids go to school, mom's cooking their food. We don't have that, you know, time to build this kind of bonding. But that event, it actually, you know, it made a huge change to the daughters and sister -- mothers. When you are planning that event, girls are like, "No. You know, moms are not going to like it. They're going to say, 'Oh'" -- you know, something like that. You know, the way we usually think about. But the day of the event, everyone was surprised. And I remember, all the areas where we did this event, mothers are coming to us and telling us, "Please do it every three months." I was like, "It's hard to, you know, make an event so early."


But we did this event, and that event, you know, there was a section where we told -- we gave the mothers -- everyone the card, you know, letter-writing section. So we said, "Everyone, write a letter to your -- moms, write a letter to your daughter, and daughter, write a letter to your mom." And then, at the end of that, whoever want to, you know, read the letter, loud. Or if you want to say anything about your daughter, or daughter wants to say anything their mother. And then they came in front of the microphone and started to read, and cried and cried. So it was a very good, you know, event. We are planning to do this year also, 2019 also, the same event. So that was another event we did in this year.

We had a plan of doing the -- uh, a self-defense event, but we couldn't make it. But we also -- another one, we took them outside, that we called one day outing. We brought them outside. We hired three buses, and from different areas, sisters came, and we went -- I forget the name. It's somewhere in Long Island. I forgot the name of the place. There was a huge beach, and everyone liked it. So -- only the girls, and some of the leaders were there, me and other sisters. We organized them, ordered food and everything. Our brothers helped us to rent the 34:00bus, to carry the food and everything, and we brought them there, and they enjoyed the whole day there, and then we brought them back at night.

STRONG: That's wonderful. So, like, just having picnics on the beach, going swimming?

AKTER: Yeah, that was -- these are, like, you know, maybe a specific event outside. But in -- during the whole month, also, some of them sit in -- weekend-based -- maybe every Sunday. They sit and they discuss about, like, let's say, this week, the topic is a statement. The Prophet said we shouldn't lie, or we shouldn't hurt each other. So all of them are discussing about it. Everyone is part -- someone maybe leading it. She'll start to talk about it. "Okay, Prophet said this. In Qur'an, God said this, you know, we are not supposed to lie." And then other people also contribute in the discussion, and what's the consequence of lying? You know, what's the consequence of being honest and everything? So this kind of, you know, moral discussion about Qur'an, 35:00and also the Prophet's talking, and sometimes also, like, we talk about mental health. We talk about, you know, not bullying each other. We talk about backbiting, you know, talking, talking evil behind your brothers and sisters that hurt their feeling. And we talk about relationships, what kind of relationships is good. You know, being -- I remember one of the sisters -- she is in, I think, 11th grade -- she had a very good speech about relationships. You know, we have -- should have a good relationship with God, we should have a good relationship with our parents, our siblings, our friends. How should we choose our friend. Which friend, you know, will lead us to do good, and which friend will lead us to do bad things. So this kind of, you know, discussion. Also teaching Qur'an. You know, if someone -- maybe in one week, they sit together and read Qur'an, recite Qur'an, and if you -- anyone know the proper way of reciting it, they help them to recite in a proper way. Pretty much this 36:00kind of -- so, you know, organizing them, educating each other, helping each other, this kind of thing.

STRONG: That sounds wonderful. It raises the question, what was different about practicing your faith, or faith communities, back home in Bangladesh, and here?

AKTER: The difference? Yes, you could practice in Bangladesh, but the present situation in Bangladesh, and even when I was there, let's say, even though it's a Muslim country in Bangladesh, right, but sometimes, I was not allowed to wear these kind of clothes when I was inside of my school. But in here, thanks God, I went to college. I forgot to tell you the whole part of my college story, though. So I went to college. I started college when -- I think 2009. I started, again, college here. I went to Hunter College, and I started to study. But here 37:00in college, you could, you know, wear whatever clothes you want to wear. You could practice it properly. And my kids are going out at school. My daughter is wearing hijab. She is even praying in school, so -- which is a very good thing. Like, the teachers always send -- she sent an email, like, "I want to pray. Will you allow me to pray?" The teacher said -- the guidance counselor said, "Yeah, sure, you could." But in some, some of the schools in Bangladesh, it was not that easy, even though there are Muslim. Sometimes they didn't allow the students to practice their religion the way they wanted to practice in there. That was -- you know, sometimes we found it very hard, you know, as a Muslim. They're also Muslim, but maybe not practicing. Everyone don't practice in the same way. Someone practice -- like to practice the way they want to. They have to -- they can make their choice, which is okay. But that was hard for some -- for some of us, like me, maybe I wanted to wear the clothes I want to wear now, but they didn't allow me. So but in here, I found it's easier. It's pretty much easier, and tolerance and everything, which is very good in here.

STRONG: So was there a dress code, and they wouldn't let you cover your hair?

AKTER: There was a dress code. Every school, especially like until 12th grade, you have a uniform based -- because in there, from 11th grade, we used to call 38:00it college. So in college, and even in school, middle school and elementary school, they had uniforms, so you have to wear the uniform, and you are not allowed to wear, like, long -- let's say -- we call it abaya, or long dress. If I said, okay, I'm going to wear the long dress, they would -- most of them wouldn't allow. Some of them, some of them, some of them, maybe -- some people, like-mentality people, established at school. Maybe they allow it. Or in some colleges, maybe in rare cases, some principals are okay with that. They allow it. But most of the colleges, they didn't. Even now. It's very hard for them to wear their religious clothes when they go outside. Some of them are facing trouble. Some of -- they're, you know, criticizing. The teachers, even, sometimes criticize their students, which is very hard for -- you know, it's shocking for us.

STRONG: Is it common for women to cover in Bangladesh?

AKTER: Now, yeah, it's common. It's very common. Of course, there is also people 39:00who don't cover. There are so many -- a large number of people also don't cover, but there's also a large number of people who covers.

STRONG: How old were you when you started covering?

AKTER: I think when I was in my eighth -- seventh grade or eighth grade. Yeah.

STRONG: Was it a problem with teachers at that age as well, or only in college?

AKTER: When I was in elementary school, I used to cover, you know -- I used to cover outside, and when I went inside of my classes, and right -- when I entered the school, I take off the big one, maybe, like, let's say, my long clothes. Underneath of this, I had my uniform. And then I used to wear small hijab, just to cover my head, like that.

STRONG: And then going home, you'd put the abaya back on?

AKTER: Exactly, yeah. So like that. I was in a girls' school, but there was also male teacher, male teachers, and male staff there. But my colleges are -- schools and colleges all were girls' school, all females. Teachers -- most 40:00teachers were female, though. So that was, you know, good. But not all of them had this kind of -- you know, not all of them went to the girls' schools. There are so many students who went to co-education, and some of them were not allowed to wear abayas and scarf like that. Some of them were very strict, that you have to be in uniform and stuff like that.

STRONG: And the uniforms -- I'm imagining, like, a British colonialist uniform. Like, what did the uniforms look like?

AKTER: Uniform was, like, you know, a pant, and sometimes a shirt, which may be, you know, up to your knee, and they were like a cross belt type of thing. That was the common one, most of the colleges, schools and colleges. Yeah, that was, that was the one. And there was a belt here, I remember. [laughter] Little belt here. There were some Englishmen at school where they used to wear the regular 41:00shirt -- you know, English shirt, we say -- and then pants. Like, this type of shirts and clothes.

STRONG: So when you came to the US with your husband, was he already an imam here?

AKTER: Yeah, he was.

STRONG: So how did he become imam of this mosque?

AKTER: I think, when he came here, he used to live in Church McDonald area maybe. Maybe some people knew him, and they found him very good, and then they decided -- they offered him. So maybe he decided to be the imam. He was a student, though, when he came here, and he went back to Bangladesh and he did his master's there, and then -- he started here, and he started college here, but he couldn't finish, and then he's like, "Okay, you go." Then I started to go, from 2009. I finished my bachelor in 2014.

STRONG: Congratulations.

AKTER: It was -- thank you. It was hard with the kids. It was very hard. And my major was medical laboratory science, so the labs and lab reports were staying 42:00up nights, and then go to -- you know, go back to school in the morning, with the kids. My daughter was in school. My son was in school. It was hard, but he helped me a lot, especially, like, when I was in college. He used to, you know, take care of them. Excuse me. Bringing them -- you know, dropping them in school, picking up them. He helped me a lot. He was very positive, like, for education and stuff. I was like, "I'm going to fail." I was like, "I'm going to fail." He's like, "It's okay if you fail. Do it."

STRONG: What drew you to science?

AKTER: Why did I go to science?

STRONG: Yeah, why, why -- what was your interest?

AKTER: Because, you know, I was studying chemistry in Bangladesh. My major was chemistry. So I was not that much interested in social science, like history and geography. I actually don't like those [laughter] because -- and what it -- I thought that, okay, since I did chemistry, I don't want to go to chemistry anymore. It's hard. And then I don't like physics, so maybe that's why I thought 43:00that maybe medical laboratory science is a good choice. So that's why. Because I liked science since -- from my very -- from my -- in Bangladesh, I think when you're in ninth grade, you have to choose which field you want to go. I don't know what is the system now, because it's been a long time I'm here now. But at that time, when you're in ninth grade, you have to choose if you want to go to business, or liberal arts, or you want to go to science field. So I chose science, and I thought -- you know, my wish, or my aim, was to be a doctor, but 44:00I didn't make it.

STRONG: Oh, this is it?

AKTER: Yeah, there.

STRONG: All right, let's pause.

[Interview Interrupted.]


STRONG: Okay, we're back. Thank you for coming back and making time. I wanted to 47:00ask you a little bit about the history of this building, Baitul Mamur [Masjid]. How long has this building been here? How long has the congregation been here?

AKTER: Well, Baitul Mamur was not here before.

STRONG: Yeah. Where was it?

AKTER: They were in, I think, in a basement, somewhere in Pitkin [Avenue] area. And then, I guess, you know, their board members, or some of their head, they actually decided to buy land, maybe, and they bought this one. Actually don't know exactly when they started to build it, but I think at 2000-- I forgot the exact time. Maybe, maybe around nine or eight, I think, they first, you know, started to be here. They moved from their old place to be here. But also, you know -- I don't know exactly when they started to build it, though.

STRONG: Was it already under construction when you arrived?

AKTER: I guess, yeah, yeah. They were under construction, maybe, yeah. So my husband and, you know, Sharmin's dad, you know, also other people, were in the board or something. They, with the neighborhood people, they bought this land. So they brought it, and -- they bought it, and I guess also some people helped 48:00them, and they built it. The good thing is, like, you know, before, they didn't have enough space for our sisters and, you know, the boys and girls. They didn't have enough space. Also, the community was not that big at the time, too, but whatever was -- it was not even enough for -- the basement was not enough for everyone. So then, when they built it, they dedicated two floor for the sisters, and then -- even other floor also, whenever they need to, if it's empty, they could use it, open for everyone. But specifically for the prayer time, and even during the Eid prayer -- Eid prayer, I think Sharmin told you, the whole mosque, inside of the mosque, they said for the sisters, and they pray outside in the street.

STRONG: The men pray outside in the street?

AKTER: The men pray outside in the street. Like, whole from, from -- all the way from the, I think, Crescent [Street] to Euclid. The whole area is, you know, good, you know, filled with people, men. And then the sisters come, first floor, 49:00second floor, basement. All are filled.


AKTER: Yeah. So it's very open for the sisters, welcoming, and for the girls and the -- for the youths and everyone. Day after day, they're trying to build more stuff for the youth, like maybe gym or playing stuff. They're thinking about those stuff, too.

STRONG: Do you find that's unique, as mosques pop up in the area, that they plan and make space for --

AKTER: Yeah, we have -- Yeah. We have a mosque here. I forget the name of it, but they don't, they don't allow women in the mosque. And there is also other mosque. That mosque is not that big. They allow women, and they're also very good, but their space is not that big. So sometimes our sisters who live in those areas, they sit for the gathering, you know, for the discussion of, halaqa as we said. They sit in those mosques, but they ask them for permission, and they're good, but in other mosque, like -- it's like our left side and right 50:00side. So one side doesn't allow women, and the other one, they do allow women. But even when I was in Bangladesh, we used to -- the neighborhood I used to live, they had a room for the sisters. But most of the mosque, they didn't allow the women to go in. They didn't have this kind of opportunity. Even now, still now, there are so many mosques, they don't allow women to go in the mosque, you know, having this kind of opportunities. Which is very good in that sense, in the neighborhood. You know, women, before, you know, they're not even familiar with the concept that women are allowed to come in the mosque, you know, they're also allowed to learn stuff, because there are so many women who don't know how to, you know, practice, or how to do, how to do their religious stuff properly. There's big opportunities. And also in the neighborhood, not like so many people have their own houses. So when you want to be -- make a gathering or something, you don't have enough space. So the mosque is a very good opportunity to come 51:00here, sit here. It's open for everyone. They could do the good thing they wanted to do, what they can't do at home. Because even though I want to, you know, tell people, "Okay, come to my house," or someone wants to, but she doesn't have enough space to accommodate all these people. So in that sense, it's a very good opportunity.

STRONG: Is that the expectation for women, that they will just do prayer by themselves at home, or with friends and family at home?

AKTER: Because, for the women, it's not obligation that they have to come to the mosque. But if they come, of course they are getting more reward for it, and if 52:00they come, of course they're also learning. So it's like open for them. They could choose. If they chose they want to come, they could come. If they want to pray at home, they could pray at home. But for the men, it's really important for them to come in the mosque. So you know, if you think, like, women have so many things to do. Taking care of kids, cooking, you know, taking care of the houses, and other stuff also, outside stuff also. So maybe if it was an obligation, they would not be able to come. So it's very flexible for them in that sense. But for the men, they have to come, or they should really come, something like that.

STRONG: Yeah. So what else makes the community here at this mosque unique? How are the different generations involved?

AKTER: The unique is, like, of course even though majority is Bangladeshi Muslim 53:00here, but other Muslims are also welcome, like from African community, from, you know, other country, Muslims. They're also -- like, in our Friday prayer, even in our Eid prayer, right, there are so many Muslims from different countries. They also come, and they like it. We had a gathering last, I think -- what was the date? Twelfth, I guess. One of the brother, he's from -- what country? I forgot the country's name. I'm sorry, I forgot the name of the country. Somewhere in Africa, I guess. He was saying, like, "Whatever job you guys are doing in this community, it's really wonderful. I really like it." So he actually went to perform the pilgrimage with my husband in Saudi Arabia. So that day was the gathering for -- we said, like, it's a gathering for pilgrimage, but we also invited all the other brothers and sisters, too, so also they could have the experience of pilgrimage group, and also, you know, have some -- we brought 54:00food. Everyone had dinner at that time. So he's saying that, you know, "It's very wonderful, like, you guys are doing here." Other brothers and sisters are welcome. Yes, most of the -- like, if you say adult man and adult woman, they don't know how to speak English, but they still try to, you know, express themselves in a better way. They can, to welcome people. It's very good in that sense.

Day after day, people are learning. Because back home, you were only in your home. Maybe you didn't know that much about people, or you didn't learn that much about people, and you didn't see different color people. You also only saw -- you -- kind of the same people that you always see, so you're not used to it. But, you know, day by day, when they came here, they're looking around and learning that, you know, we have to accept everyone. Even our religion say that God created everyone equally. Doesn't matter someone is white, someone is black, someone is, you know, other color. Everyone is equal in the eye of God. So 55:00people are -- women are learning, men are learning, through the masjid, through the imam. Women are learning, and now their, you know, mentality is changing. So even though they don't know the language, but they're trying their best to embrace people, which is a very good thing. It's really change -- day after day, changing. People are improving. That's very good, I would say.

STRONG: East New York is so different and unique in that way, that there are people of many different cultures --

AKTER: Ethnicity, yeah.

STRONG: -- faiths, races, here. Do you find, for the most part, that people do coexist well, or have there been moments of friction as well?

AKTER: I would say, most of the time, it's good, coexisting well, like, from my experience. Well, there is also some little bit, you know -- like, in this area, I guess, three or four years ago, when you're praying Ramadan -- not maybe for the hate or this kind of thing. It's maybe some, some boys or girls -- some 56:00boys, maybe they are not trying to do good things. You know, snapping or -- slapping someone who are, like, walking. I remember one, say, incident, when the lady was going on the way from [her] home -- from the mosque, she was going back to the home, and I think somebody [snatched] her bag, purse, I think, or somebody slapped her. This kind of incident happened. But not, not that much, I would say. And it's improving, because I think, from last two years or three years, the security, the police and other guard also, helping us during our Ramadan time and other stuff. So it's -- I would say percentage-wise, if you say, is more percentage, like, people are coexisting well. Even like, you know, now, in the groceries, if you go, a grocery which was full of Spanish people's food, now they're also putting the people's food from Bangladesh, people -- you 57:00know, like juices and stuff that the Bangladeshi people like. They're also putting those. At the same time, the Bangladeshi groceries, they're also putting stuff that Guyanese people like, and then Arab people like, or Indian people like, Pakistani people like, which is, which is positive, you know. It's very good in a way.

STRONG: It gives you an opportunity to try other people's food --

AKTER: Exactly, yeah.

STRONG: -- as well.

AKTER: Yeah.

STRONG: Tell me about some of the local community events. I know that there's, you know, a space where there's a festival sometimes, and there are, you know, open Eid holidays.

AKTER: Yeah, so I think the community event, sometimes people have -- I don't know if -- they have the fair here in -- I don't know if there's a park in Eldert Lane or something. There is a parking lot, huge parking lot. So the Bangladeshi people, they, in summertime, most of the summertime, they do a street fair or something like that. They rent that park, and then all the 58:00peoples go, people go and then buy stuff. They put some stall there, clothing stall or jewelry stall, food stall, some kind of thing there. They also bring the kids' ride there. So this kind of event also go very well. And in those -- you know, the insurance companies come. They also sit with a table, and Metroplus and other stuff. So this kind of event is also, you know, helping the community to know each other, also going and, I would say, involving in other stuff, too. Other festival -- even like there is street parties, like other people also do -- maybe not, maybe, in these areas. Maybe, like, a next-door 59:00neighborhood, they do in their house. This kind of event, you know, yeah, it goes, and it's okay. It's good. Like, people are trying to, I would say, being more tolerance now, and helping each other more.

STRONG: I wanted to ask about your experience personally when you came to Brooklyn. Do you remember the first time you interacted with somebody who was very different than you'd ever seen before?

AKTER: Well, first, when I came, obviously language was a -- even though I knew a little bit of English, but I was not that fluent or that good. Even maybe not now -- still, I'm not that good. But I remember experience which actually gave me a sad feeling. I took my daughter to the clinic, and one of the nurse were telling me to take off her clothes. But before, I went to another clinic, they 60:00actually took off her clothes. You know, she was a baby, and when they do the height and weight and everything. So first experience was very good, and the nurse did everything for me, and the second experience, the nurse was telling me, but I was not understanding what she was telling. You know, sometimes, maybe, lack of understanding or language barrier could -- might be also the reason. And she kept telling me two or three times, and she became mad, and that actually made me sad. I was like, what is she trying to do? So I found it very rude. But after that, I also was coping more, picking up language also more, and I found out she's actually a very nice lady. Even though -- she was a very old lady -- in the same clinic. I still go in the same clinic. But you know, when people get old, it's very normal that they become cranky, but it takes time to understand it, or to realize it. So my kids' doctor was saying that she's the best person in there. She's like a RN [Registered Nurse] or something in the clinic, and I was like, "I found her, she's a very rude person," but she's like, 61:00"It's okay, she's an old lady, but she works very good. She is very serious about her work, she has -- and her concern is very good about it, like for the patient and everything." So that was one sad feeling, you know, that actually made me sad.

Other than that, in the streets and stuff, I've, I've found people good, you know. Maybe one or two times, bad experience, but not that bad. But one day, my husband -- I think some young boys or someone pushed him in the street. And another time, one day, his cell phone -- they snatched his cell phone from his hand. So he just got out from the house, and then after a few minutes, he was talking on the phone and coming to the masjid, and then they just snatched his 62:00phone from him. That was a few experience. Also, one brother, I remember, in front of someone's house, you know, someone punched him, and blood came out. This kind of incident happened. Other than that, it was good. It was good.

There was not that much, you know, Bangladeshi people at that time, but day after day, more people are coming. Also, in the buildings and everywhere, people are now more -- in my building, there is not that much Bengali, though, but in other -- there are some buildings, like most people are Bengalis, and -- you know. And also, we also, like in my door, in my house, the front door is -- I guess they are from Guyana, and they're Hindu. They're very good. I used to live on top of them, and my kids are very active. They run around, jump around. They 63:00never complained. And now I moved right in front of them, the second floor. So the day I moved, I was like, "I'm so sorry. I found you guys very good neighbor. You never complained about my kids and everything." And the lady was like, "We know kids are kids." And the husband, the man of the house, he's like, "Sometimes I found it hard, but I didn't complain." So -- which is very nice, very nice. It's -- because in some houses, I know, if there is little bit sound, the neighbor from downstairs start to poke the [laughter] building. So in that sense, I'm lucky. My neighbor was very good.

And the supers, the building that -- I live in an apartment building. The supers, they like us very much. There was an old super. I didn't even know that -- once, my refrigerator wasn't working, and the management -- I called the management, so the management was, you know, calling me back or something, and he was telling me that, "The super told me that you guys are very good people. 64:00So just buy it, and give me the receipt, and I'll pay." Which is, which is very good. Even now, we have a new super. One day, for some reason, I think for one of the neighbor told something, then other neighbor also started to say something. So they started to have a kind of fight or something, and then other people involved in -- something like that. So eventually, my husband was, you know, quiet, and he said something then. Now all of them are very good friend of mine.

And one day, my neighbor, in the next door -- I think it was the day before our holiday, and I was blending something, because I was cooking food and stuff for the next day, and I didn't realize that she was screaming. Maybe the sound of the blender bothered her, and I felt sorry for that. And then what I found out that's my fault, that as a neighbor, I made sound. I tried to make a good relationship with her, so sometimes I gave her food. You know, I brought some 65:00apple from apple-picking, so I gave her that, you know. Saying hi and hello, because in our religion, it's -- neighbor is very important. You have to take care of your neighbor. You have to have a good relationship with the neighbor. So I found out that this is my job, that I have to make a good relationship with my neighbor. Now all of them are very good friend of mine.

A neighbor living upstair, in fourth floor, she comes -- two or three days ago, we had -- remember I told you we had a party here, and we invited people. So I -- we had food, and it was night, so I couldn't give -- distribute it to them. The next day -- I put it in the refrigerator. The next day, I, you know, take food for everyone, so I distributed to her and other people also. My super and everyone really liked us. As a tenant, our management and everyone is very happy with us also, because we try not to make so much noise. We try not to make -- bother people. Try our best, even though sometimes we might make mistake. But we 66:00try our best, and hopefully that works. The super is also very well-behaved with us in the building.

So overall, neighborhood, I would say, very positive. Yes, sometimes there is some bad things happen. But that's also our goal, is to make our kids, our youth, good in their behavior, in their morality, so they could show their good manner and characteristics to other people. They could give people, so other people also could understand what really we are, which really, you know, it means to be a Muslim, to be a good Muslim, basically. So they also, you know, become friend with us. That's also our goal.

STRONG: I'm curious to learn about East New York, City Line, you know, this neighborhood, generally. How has it changed in the time that you've been here, and how do you hope it will change in the future?


AKTER: It changed, like, you know, now there is, like, a lot of restaurants, pharmacies, are owned by Bangladeshi people, and like, you know, even Bangladeshi doctors are now private -- they're practicing privately. They have chambers. So many Bangladeshi doctors are here. And one of the doctor I know, he's -- he has a very good reputation in his workplace, and he's rewarded by, I think, some organization or company or government, I don't know, but which is -- he's very well-known for those jobs. So which is also very good. Like, doctors are now sitting here, because there are so many Bangladeshi people also. And other people are also going to those doctors, too. And stores, like groceries, restaurants, you know, pharmacies, and then other stores, like a dollar store. There are so many dollar stores. Like, business are, you know, now raising for the people of, you know -- for -- even for Bangladeshi and non-Bangladeshi, other people too. But my expectation is -- this area is not that clean. This 68:00area, like the streets are not that clean, I would say. That's the -- that really bothers me. So we -- MUNA has a project also to clean the neighborhood. If we could contribute, and also, I don't know, if the city could put in more attention in those area for cleaning -- keeping the street clean, or maybe making awareness. We also try to do that, and also the city could help, you know. That's also very good. And the schools. Schools should be, you know, more -- I would say school level should be more standard, or their way of education -- it's okay, like, but if you look at it -- if you -- in this neighborhood, there is no specialized or best school, you say. There is a school which is good.

STRONG: Oh, yeah, one moment.

[Interview Interrupted.]

STRONG: Okay, so when we paused, you were talking about the schools. How the -- 69:00there are public schools here, but there aren't that many, like, specialized schools, private schools.

AKTER: Specialized, and the quality of the school is not, I think -- I think it's better to improve them. Right? So -- because many parents, you know, they don't want to send their kids far. Like, my kids go to -- I don't know if you've heard of it -- Scholars Academy. It's in Rockaway Boulevard -- Rockaway Beach. Rockaway Beach, close to us. Not in our district. It's in Queens district. But it takes one hour them to go there. So for -- there are so many parents who are scared to send their kids alone there, and for the parents, it's impossible to drop and every day pick up. So if there is some good school in this neighborhood -- the students are really good here. And the parents, especially Bangladeshi parents, they're very concerned about the kids' education, though. They're very -- you know, sending them in tutoring center or helping them in home, and 70:00they're doing very good now. So it's better to have better schools in here, I would say.

Also, the -- for the activities, right? It's the swimming. Yes, we have some, but not like walking distance. You have to go by bus or train or something. So these -- those maybe, if some organization like MUNA or other organization also can improve this kind of thing. Especially for us, you know, we'd prefer if we have a swimming pool that's only for the girls, you know. We don't want to expose ourselves in front of the boys, so the men and the women have the separate swimming area. So we could also utilize these kind of opportunities. Nowadays, you know, it's far, and also they don't -- everyone doesn't have the same kind of facilities that we want to. Right? So maybe even though we want to 71:00go, we can't go. And it's expensive. I went to YMCA on Atlantic Avenue or something. They said, per hour, $200 or something. So for -- if you take it as a private, if you want to rent it as a private. So it's really expensive for people. So those things, I think, we need for the -- especially for the youths, for Muslim youth, and Muslim girls also, who want to, you know, do it in their way, maybe. And schools are also very important for them. And especially the streets, I would say, street and, you know, for cleaning, those stuff also, maybe the neighborhood could be aware of it, or the city, or -- you know. They could also make some awareness about it.

STRONG: Have you done any kind of outreach to community board, public schools, the local precinct? Anything like that?

AKTER: I didn't go, but my husband and the masjid, and from MUNA, they go, they 72:00go. MUNA even has an outreach week. They even celebrate an outreach weekend, I guess. So in that time, they go. My husband and MUNA, and also this mosque, has a very good relationship with the precinct. For outreach event, they invite the police officers and stuff inside of the mosque. They have conversation with them. They do. I personally didn't do that, but they do it. They really do it.

STRONG: Have you learned anything about, like, you know, how local police officers could improve their education to serve the community better or anything like that? Can you give me any specific examples is, I guess, what I'm wondering.

AKTER: I didn't get that question.

STRONG: So when they do outreach with the local precinct, is there any kind of education or anything in particular that they --

AKTER: Teach people to be aware of? I don't know.



AKTER: I don't know about it, though. Oh, I think, I think last time, they have, an event. I forgot what is it about. Some kind of event they had. But also, like, we have in here, not from the precinct -- I think they did have some kind of event like that. One of the precinct guy came for some -- what is -- I specifically forgot what was the event about. But we have some doctors and some people come for, you know, like how to check your pressure, how to maintain your health, and those kind of event. That happens in here, too. And service, like how to take care of your health, and participating in different kind of service. Those -- some sisters come, and also some doctors come. Even, like, from insurance companies. They also sometimes come here. So those -- yeah, those things, they do.

STRONG: One thing I wanted to ask you, since you work with youth, is --

AKTER: Oh, I think, sometimes -- once, the precinct, some -- someone came. They 74:00distributed some bicycles or something to the kids, yeah, for some reason.

STRONG: That's great. Since you work with different generations, I kind of wanted to ask, what is the difference you see between people who have been born here in Brooklyn, and people who were born in Bangladesh? You know, is there any kind of, like, communication bridge that needs to be --

AKTER: The youths or the adults and youths? Adults and youths? Yeah, of course, the communication bridge is a very, very big issue, you know. Especially our parents -- so many of our parents don't know how to speak -- some -- most of them now understand, but they don't know, maybe, how to speak. And you know, the way they raised -- they were raised and their parents took care of them, or disciplined them, it's not the same way that we are now disciplining our kids and we are now raising our kids. There is a huge difference. When I was, I was 75:00at the age of 13 and 14, my mom, you know, told me not to do, or my mom said -- disciplined me, you know, "If you do that, it's going to happen. I'm going to give you -- you're going to get penalty or something like that." But now we have to think, like, we think, what is the mentality of the child? Like, how I have to deal with it. And, you know, when we were raised in an area like -- I had an aunt next-door, and I had an uncle in other door, and we went outside. We played outside. We were not involved with, like, games and phones and devices. Our life was not like that. So we had conversation with people. Now there is no conversation. It's like the conversation with fingers. So this is actually a huge difference, and also, because of the language barrier, and the mentality of the kids now, especially they're raising in a different world, not the same 76:00world that we were raised in, not the same way that our parents disciplined me, and sometimes it becomes an issue.

That's also, you know -- those also, you're trying to minimize through our gatherings, you know. We are telling the mothers and kids -- you know, giving the mothers the idea of what's going on with their kids, what's happening around the world, how to handle those kind of -- sometimes having parenting type of program, you know. Telling people -- and also the sisters, also the girls -- telling them, you know, yeah, this kind of problem, of course, is a big problem, and our goal is to minimize it, and to make -- to break this bridge, basically. Or someone will help to connect this bridge. You know, so that the children also understand -- see, the mothers-daughters event was a good one for that, too. We are talking about, like, you know, when the kids come from school, you ask them how was their school, how was their day, because they're also having stress in 77:00their life. And when the moms are working, or even some are working mom, at the same time working at home, so you also ask the mom, like, "How life going on?" And that day, I remember one girl was saying, like, they have a restaurant, and she's saying that she was, like, first, you know, "Oh, auntie, you are so emotional. You are crying," or something like that. But I didn't realize that when she -- she's going to take the microphone. She started to cry and cry, and she couldn't talk, and she's telling her mom that, "You go to the restaurant. You cook food and everything for us, and my brothers, and then we yell at you, and sometimes don't listen to you. You work hard whole day." And then, you know, she's realizing what her mom does for her, and then mom's also realizing that, oh, the kids are also having hard time in their life.

So this kind of -- you know, our goal is, you know, breaking this kind of bridge, too. Also giving them the idea, how should we discipline our kids? What 78:00we should teach them, what we should not teach them, how we should look at them. You know, they're watching so many things. What is appropriate? What is not appropriate? Even though you don't understand, but you could act certain way that you are understanding it, right? You know, what is good and what is bad. So yeah, this is a problem, and for this problem, of course, there are so many other problems also raising. But we're trying to, you know, minimize those things.

STRONG: I think about -- you brought up language education. Are people who grow up in Brooklyn and were born in Brooklyn able to speak the language that their parents speak very well? What are their opportunities for learning?

AKTER: Not really. Not -- even my kids, even though I speak in Bangla with them, they can't respond to me with the Bangla. They do understand, maybe, most part of it, but -- they try. Some of them do, though. Some of them -- which, you know, sometimes something -- I would say everything has a good side and a bad side. So since I know how to communicate with them, they don't want to speak, 79:00you know, Bangla with me. They speak English. But the mothers, who doesn't know how to communicate with them, their kids try to speak Bengali with them. So that's why, you know, in some families it's good that they speak Bangla, and they speak their own language with their parents, which is very good. But in -- but me, and maybe there are other parents also, they do understand, but they don't want to talk, because they know that mommy understands what I'm saying, so -- [laughter].

STRONG: Are there any opportunities for, like, formal language education?

AKTER: Well, they started here for Bangla thing, but they didn't continue. There is some institution, some tutoring center and something, they are doing -- I'm also thinking that I'm going to teach them how to, like -- Sharmin's grandparent -- grandfather -- I didn't know that -- one day, Sharmin was reading Bangla, Bengali, you know. So I was like, "You know how to read Bengali?" She's like, "Yeah, my grandfather taught me." Which is very good. Some grandparents are 80:00doing that, but maybe not all. But I'm also planning, and some other parents are also planning, to teach their kids Bengali, at least reading and writing, so they will understand it. That is my goal, too.

STRONG: You said there's also like some --

AKTER: Adults. Some adults also going in schools and, you know, ESL [English as a Second Language] classes. Yeah. I know some of my friends, and even -- I call them aunties -- some aunties, they're also going to the adult classes, teaches --

STRONG: What about, like, music, poetry, cultural education, things like that?

AKTER: So in terms of music, I was -- I couldn't -- I didn't tell you that we had an event on December 30th. We had our -- one portion is the speech time. The girls who came in the podium, and then they gave a speech. One speech was, like, about mental health. Another was, like I told you, about relationships. Like, throughout the years, whatever they practiced in their regular weekend 81:00gathering, halaqas, they did actually those top-- they picked those topics. I was like, "Okay, whatever you guys learned, whatever you guys did in your regular program, try to give few minutes, maybe four minutes or five minutes, of formal speech in front of other people." So the women came -- like, mommies came, and the girls, daughters, came, and other youth, young sisters, also came. So the first part was, like, they spoke. They came in the podium with the microphone, and then, you know, gave a formal speech for five minutes or six minutes, and then after that, we had a cultural event. We didn't use music, like instrumental music, but they sang, they did spoken work, they did skits. It was, like, skits between -- the language was mixed in English and Bangla, and then other languages. So it was really wonderful, and everyone liked it. They're also telling us to do it more, to organize this kind of event more, because the moms 82:00and daughters also had, you know, kind of same day, they came together. They also enjoyed what their daughter did. They also learned and everything. Also fun, you know. They enjoyed it. There was a good entertainment. So we didn't use music and instrument, but they did songs and skits and spoken word. Some of them did their own spoken word. They wrote their own poem, and then did it. And some of them did, you know, some famous people's spoken word, and then they just performed it. So it was very good. These are, like, all -- some middle-school girls, some high-school girls, and some college girls.

STRONG: That's amazing.

AKTER: Yeah, and even the children, we are also teaching the same thing. We don't use instrumental music, but they do do those cultural stuff, without the instrumental music.

STRONG: That's great.

AKTER: We are planning to do this kind of event more in other years, too.

STRONG: Oh, really?

AKTER: Yeah.

STRONG: So you have partnerships with other mosques or other organizations?


AKTER: So the Muslim of North American -- MUNA. They have, like, other mosques in the same -- different areas.

STRONG: Oh, of course, yeah.

AKTER: So those places also our sisters or our mothers. They also gather in these kind of events. So different type of -- they have those -- I was like, "You know, you guys have those talent. You guys have the potential. Use it. Utilize it." Because those girls who are in our children's section, MUNA children's section, so they used to sing and do this kind of stuff. As they're growing up, since they're not practicing it, they're just forgetting it. I was like, "No, we have to continue this."

STRONG: Yeah. There was something else I was going to ask you, but I've kind of forgotten. Oh. You mentioned a few times that, you know, these networks of -- good idea -- like, of women, or, like, personal relationships, would, like, help 84:00or support each other, and I was wondering if you can give me an example of a time when maybe another family was going through a crisis, and you and others would reach out and get involved.

AKTER: Very good question. Very good question. So many examples of that. Last year, there was a huge fire in one of the apartment. Like, I guess 22 of them were Bangladeshi families, and two person died. I don't know if you saw the news. Two -- because of the smoke, two -- I think mom or daughter or someone like that. They didn't realize, because the people are screaming, but they slept, so they didn't realize it. So it was a huge fire. And we also didn't -- I think at 1:00 am or 2:00 am, between this time. So as soon as the fire happened, you know, fire service came, and the neighborhood people, neighborhood sisters. 85:00And there are so many sisters who are involved in MUNA, and the other sister who lived next to them, she has her own house. She also, you know, come in this kind of gathering. Even in this building, we had sisters who used to, you know, come together, sit together, discuss about religion, practice, helping each other. You know, had food, and you know, had fun. So they had a very good bond. So when the next-door sister, she saw that, you know, they're affecting, she called the whole family in her house. She opened her closet. She gave everyone the coats and whatever winter clothes she had. She cooked for everyone. And as soon as the news spread in ours and other sisters, everyone ran. Everyone ran.

And then I remember, when I heard the news, I calling some aunties, some ladies I know. I call them. They're like, "We're on the way to the shelter." They went to a hotel. They stayed for a long time in the hotel. And we, from here, MUNA actually gave them some financial help, clothes. Excuse me. Our sisters cooked 86:00food, and they brought food in the hotel. MUNA gave food for them, you know. And then some sisters, they, I think -- like now, until now -- I don't know now if there is anyone in the hotel, though, but I think most of them are now in the shelter. Like, everyone actually went and helped, and MUNA also did a very good job in that -- at that time. And our sisters -- since the sisters were involved with MUNA, and we heard about it. We ran, hugged them, you know, gave them comfort. They were, like, crying.

Some of them -- one of the sisters, she is also an associate member of MUNA. She had a baby, and she has a baby like my son's age, and she had another baby, and she had a C-section. And she was going through so much difficulties, you know, because the doctor made a mistake. Doctor actually made hole in her bladder, so 87:00the urine was leaking. She was crying and telling the story of, you know, how she climbed, how she got down through the thing -- fire escape. So everyone went, and when they saw us, they felt, you know, comfort and everything. So we ran there, and we brought food for them. We cooked food for them, even after that, whenever it was possible. Even though it was far for us -- if it was close, if they're staying in a close hotel, then everyone would go every day, but since it was far, they did their best. They did their best, even -- one day, I think it was in Ramadan, and you know, Ramadan, we have to fast. And during the time of our fast-breaking, we need food. So I cooked some food, other sisters cooked some food, and we gave food, so that food would be enough for them for two days. So even though they could buy food, but, you know, they feel good when someone care about them. So MUNA really did, you know, very good help for them.


I had a neighbor in my upstair. I know them, and that family is actually going through some difficulties, like her husband is sick. She also had an accident. She's the one -- the mother is the one who actually provide the family, because the husband couldn't work because of the sickness. I didn't know about it. So once I actually saw the mother's mother, so grandmother of the family, and she was talking to me, hugging me and crying, you know, out of, like, sadness, saying that, "My, you know, my son-in-law is sick, now my daughter had an accident." You know, they were having financial difficulties. So as soon as I heard it, I went to their house, and the next day I cooked for them, and then I told my husband, I was like, "Is there anything we could do for them financially?" And you know, when these kind of people are in this kind of difficulties, they can't express -- they are not poor. They are just in a situation where now they can't work. So she can't tell me that, "Oh, can you 89:00help me?" but I understand that she needs help at that time. So -- and even our religion says that you must look at these people and understand it and help them before they tell you that. Because they can't say that out of the wise-ness or out of their status, because they are not poor that they could, you know, beg for something. So I told my husband, and he's like, "Okay, let's see what we can do from MUNA." So he actually, you know, gave a $1,000 check for them, for the family. So I actually went the next week, and then I gave the check to the lady, and she's, like, calling me, and she's like, "It's a big help for me. It's a big help for me."

So if we know, if someone tells us, we try our best to go there, reach there, and help there, and that's also part of our agenda, to helping people. You know, social service. That's also part of MUNA's agenda. So we try our best for doing that, and we find it -- since we have the belief that God is going to reward us 90:00for this, so as soon as we hear this kind of someone is sick, someone, you know, need help. Yesterday, there was a funeral. One of the brother died from cancer, and he needed help for a funeral, so imam declared -- announced that, you know, "One of our brother, he just died, and since he was in cancer, he couldn't do anything, so everyone please try to help." So everyone donated and then they help for the family.

STRONG: Do you think having community networks like this, and as you say, like social services for people like this, makes it easier for new families to come over?

AKTER: Of course. Of course. These are, these are also big help. Sometimes, you know, some people come as an immigrant, as an immigrant, and people, when they just first come, they don't find a job, or it's hard to find a job, or maybe kids are small. There is not that many people to work, or language is a barrier. It's not easy to get a job. And if they -- if we know about them, we try to help 91:00them. You know, bonding, and then connecting with the community, and having this kind of network, you said, that's really true. If you don't have the connection, you don't know, you don't help. So if you are -- that's why, in Islam, in our religion, being together is so important, so you could help each other when they're in danger. You could also celebrate their goodness and badness-- bad thing too, right. So yeah, this is -- it's absolutely true, being together, you know, helping each other, networking, connecting with other people, it's very important.

STRONG: I want to ask you another question about --

AKTER: Do you want to finish your food, because -- since we are talking? [laughter]

STRONG: Yeah, let's take a moment to eat.

[Interview Interrupted.]

STRONG: So I don't remember what I was about to ask you, but I thought of a different question. How has your own personal relationship with your faith maybe changed or evolved over time, since you were younger to now?


AKTER: It's become stronger. That's also -- you know, when we are young, you don't care about your, I would say, maybe your life, or your life in hereafter.

STRONG: Should I pause? Yes?

[Interview Interrupted.]

STRONG: So you were saying it's gotten stronger over time, and when you're younger, you don't really think about --

AKTER: Yeah, you really -- because, I don't know, like maybe your world is, like, is very small at that time. So whatever you think, whatever you have, you think it is very important. You don't care about other people or other thing that much. As you grow older, especially when you work with more people, involved with more people, you go into their life and you see what's happening, 93:00and then you realize, like, how better maybe you are, or how worse you are, or what's going on in your life and what's going on in their life, what's more important. So if -- because we always complain about our life, right? But if you go -- let's say I was talking about the fire happened in our neighborhood. So when -- I thought -- when I went there and I was talking with them, asking them what's going on, and they're crying and, you know, having this pain, I'm like, we're in, like, heaven. We didn't face this kind of situation. And there are so many people, you know, come here, struggle with life. Maybe I didn't do that. So that time, I become thankful for my life. I don't complain anymore.

But the -- when you are kids, or you are youth, or you just -- you just be yourself, and you just want to get whatever you need or whatever you want. And then, you know, studying more, learning more, practicing more, and thinking in a 94:00wider aspect. That also make you, you know, more humble, I would say, and give you the sense of working more, giving more, being more patience, and pray more. And yeah, be more thankful. Everything. So day after day, as much -- as more -- you know, you're learning more, you're trying to practice more. And now, I am, as an adult, I'm teaching my kids. So if I'm not doing those good things, or I'm not utilizing those in my life, how could I teach them? That's also another reason, you know, when you become adults, you shape your life in a better way. You try more than before. Even you still, you still -- we are still learning. All of us are still learning, and every day we're learning. Also, we are making mistakes, but we're also trying to purify ourself, or clarify what we are doing 95:00now, or learning from our mistakes, trying not to make the same mistake again, and so we could teach other people also. So being an adult, obviously. Focusing more on more important thing. You know, sorting out actually what is more important and less important, so we focus which is more important, even though that's hard. You focus on those more, maybe. So yeah, being an adult is helping you to practice more, becoming more religious, or becoming more helpful to people, being more patient.

STRONG: So tell me about -- we talked about the future of this neighborhood a little bit, but tell me about your future. What's next for you as your children get older and more independent?

AKTER: I don't know. It's kind of -- I mean, since I finished my bachelor, I was supposed to take a license from that major I did, but I didn't, because I 96:00finished my master's in 2014, and I was supposed to take the license exam at that time, but I got pregnant at that time with my, you know, last kid, baby. So I couldn't continue. Now I'm thinking to take it again, but now when I open the book, I feel like I forgot everything. It's hard. It's going to be hard, but I will try to take the license. I'm not planning for any full-time job, because my kids are my priority always. My family are my priority always. So I'm thinking if I could have something that could balance my family and my job, both together, so I could start doing that. I'm looking for it. At the same time, you know, helping those kids, the children, the teenagers, girls, and I'm working with. Helping them more, and giving them more time, thinking about more projects, and what good -- keep them engaged in good work, instead of doing 97:00other useless work, maybe. So focusing of -- focusing to involving in more good activities. I'm also thinking about those stuff, too. And obviously, the most important future for us to get the pleasure of God.

STRONG: Is there anything else that I should have asked you, or if you imagine people listening to this interview 50 years from now, anything you hope that they have heard or understood in your stories?

AKTER: I would say, for whatever place we are, doesn't matter. If we try our best to, I don't know, to engage with people in a better way, so people will come forward also. And if we try to help other people, other people will come, 98:00too, right? So we -- in any -- anywhere, we could try our self to contribute in the society, to help the society to be better, and morally, our -- in terms of education or social work or whatever it is, we could try. Everyone can try, I guess. What else? I don't know. Maybe if you have more question.

STRONG: No, that's all of my questions. Thank you so much for your time, first of all.

AKTER: You're welcome.

STRONG: And also for feeding me. Thank you for that.

AKTER: Thank you so much for having me, too.

STRONG: And I look forward to being in touch with you as the project progresses, so --

AKTER: Thank you so much.

STRONG: Thank you.


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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Mst. Firoza Akter

Mst. Firoza Akter was born in 1981 in Bangladesh. She moved to Dhaka as a teenager to pursue higher education and married in 2002. She immigrated to the United States to join her husband shortly after the birth of their first child in 2005. They settled in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she became involved in both Baitul Mamur Masjid and Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA). With MUNA, she worked to engage youth in their community's cultural and religious traditions; plan community events; and provide social and material assistance to people in need.

In this interview, Mst. Firoza Akter discusses her family, her childhood in Bangladesh, and moving to Dhaka to pursue higher education as a teenager. She expands on her marriage to her husband, her immigration to the United States, and raising their children in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn. She speaks at length about her involvement in East New York's Bangladeshi community and her work with the faith-based community organization Muslim Ummah of North America (MUNA). She also talks about Bengali cultural traditions; her Muslim faith; gender roles within East New York's Muslim communities; and her experiences with Sharmin Hoque (interviewed for this collection on December 21, 2018) and her family. 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.


Akter, Firoza, Oral history interview conducted by Liz H. Strong, January 22, 2019, Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories, 2018.006.56; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Akter, Firoza
  • Baitul Mamur Masjid and Community Center (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Hoque, Sharmin
  • Muslim Ummah of North America


  • Bangladeshis
  • Child rearing
  • Community centers
  • Cultural pluralism
  • Education of children
  • Faith-based human services
  • Immigrants
  • Islam
  • Religion and ethics
  • Ummah (Islamic)
  • Women in Islam


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


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Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories