Legal Challenge to NYPD Muslim Surveillance Program: Plaintiff Profiles
Asad (“Ace”) Dandia is a 20-year-old American citizen living in Brooklyn, New York. He studies liberal arts at a City University of New York community college and wants to be a social worker. He believes that charity and community service are a critical component of his Muslim faith, and he is a co-founder and vice president of Muslims Giving Back, an organization serving needy New Yorkers. In March 2012, a young man reached out to Dandia, claiming that he wanted to become a better practicing Muslim and to engage in charitable work. Wanting to assist him in his quest for religious self-improvement, Dandia incorporated the man into his charitable work and circle of friends.
But in October 2012, Dandia learned that the man was an NYPD informant sent to spy on the organization and the community. Infiltration by an NYPD informant constituted a major blow to the organization’s viability and reputation in the community, and to Dandia’s own efforts, even though he has done nothing wrong. The NYPD’s unlawful surveillance program has significantly impeded Dandia’s ability to engage in the charity work required by his Islamic faith. Read more about him here.
Hamid Hassan Raza
Hamid Hassan Raza is an American citizen living with his wife and child in Brooklyn, New York. He serves as imam at Masjid Al-Ansar, a Brooklyn mosque, where he leads prayer services, conducts religious education classes, and provides counseling to members of the community. The NYPD has subjected Imam Raza to suspicionless surveillance since at least 2008, and, as a result, he has had to take a range of measures to protect himself. For example, he records his sermons out of fear that an officer or informant will misquote him, or take a statement out of context. He also steers clear of certain religious topics or current events in his sermons and conversations, so as to avoid statements that the NYPD or its informants might perceive as controversial.
Imam Raza’s knowledge and fear of suspicionless police scrutiny have diverted his time and attention from ministry and counseling while chilling his ability to speak on topics of religious and community importance. The NYPD’s unlawful surveillance prevents Imam Raza from fulfilling his duty as a religious minister, educator, and scholar in the Masjid Al-Ansar community.
Masjid Al-Ansar is a Brooklyn mosque that provides daily prayer services, counseling, and religious education to its community of congregants. It aims to foster an inclusive religious community, especially for youth. Masjid Al-Ansar has been under suspicionless NYPD surveillance since at least 2008, including through the use of informants. Realizing this, the mosque has invested in expensive video equipment to record sermons, in order to prevent NYPD officers or informants from misreporting statements or taking them out of context. For the same reason, the mosque leadership discourages congregants from discussing topics that the NYPD could consider controversial, and limits congregants’ presence at the mosque outside of prayer times to avoid drawing unwarranted police surveillance upon innocent worshippers.
Knowledge and fear of NYPD surveillance has bred a distrustful atmosphere at the mosque, especially towards newcomers. The strain caused by unlawful NYPD surveillance has significantly chilled the religious leaders’ ministry and expression and prevented the mosque from fulfilling its mission of serving as a religious sanctuary. A mosque that was once the hub of a vibrant community has been tainted by stigma and suspicion.
Muslims Giving Back
Muslims Giving Back (MGB) is a New York non-profit organization that promotes and engages in charitable activities in keeping with Islam’s emphasis on assistance to the poor. The organization collects donations from the community, which it uses to provide food and other forms of assistance to low-income individuals around New York City. It is a successor to another charitable organization that stopped functioning after members learned that it had been infiltrated by NYPD informants. MGB was able to raise hundreds of dollars each week by soliciting donations, primarily at a local mosque.
However, MGB’s reputation and viability suffered a major blow in October 2012, when an NYPD informant revealed himself as having infiltrated the group. As a result, the organization has struggled to raise funds and pay basic expenses, and its ability to provide charity to needy New Yorkers has been significantly curtailed. MGB has also been forced to adopt a lower public profile for fear of attracting even more unwarranted NYPD attention. Although MGB still aims to promote and provide charity to needy New Yorkers in fulfillment of one of Islam’s primary tenets, the NYPD’s unlawful surveillance has profoundly harmed its charitable efforts.
Masjid At-Taqwa, a mosque in Brooklyn, New York, holds daily prayer services and provides religious education and counseling to its congregants. An NYPD surveillance camera has been installed outside Masjid At-Taqwa, recording the comings and goings of worshippers, since as early as 2004. Over the years, the mosque has also been infiltrated by NYPD informants. This NYPD surveillance has had a deeply negative impact on the community, inspiring fear and anxiety among congregants, some of whom have left the mosque.
To protect itself from discriminatory and suspicionless police scrutiny, Masjid At-Taqwa has taken a number of precautionary measures, including making sure sermons are recorded. Religious leaders, fearful of infiltration by NYPD informants, also include third-party witnesses in private counseling sessions for newcomers, sacrificing the ability to provide confidential religious guidance. The stigma and fear caused by unlawful NYPD surveillance have significantly chilled the religious leaders’ ministry and expression and prevented the mosque from fulfilling its mission of serving as a religious sanctuary.
Mohammad Elshinawy is an American citizen residing in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. He has taught and lectured about Islam at various institutions throughout New York City for the last 11 years, always on a volunteer basis. Mr. Elshinawy has suspected that the NYPD has been spying on him since approximately 2004. In the years since then, he has been repeatedly approached by people who turned out to be informants, as well as by NYPD officers.
As a result of this surveillance, Mr. Elshinawy has altered the content of his lectures to avoid certain topics—for example, politics or certain periods in Islamic history—that he worries would be misreported to or misinterpreted by the NYPD. Similarly, he has called off religious study sessions, fearing some of the participants were informants. Many of his peers, aware he is being monitored by the NYPD, have stopped attending his sermons and, in some instances, associating with Mr. Elshinawy altogether. He has also been passed over for lecturing and board positions by institutions fearing mere association with Mr. Elshinawy would attract unwarranted NYPD attention. The NYPD’s unlawful surveillance of Mr. Elshinawy has hindered his ability to teach his religion, provide counsel, and mentor Muslim youth, all of which are core aspects of his religious practice.