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New Yorkers to Jenifer Rajkumar: Please Stop Coming to Our Iftars

Three different organizations have spoken out against Rajkumar's presence at Ramadan events this year, and some links you're welcome to read this Thursday.

Cherry blossoms in NYC.
(Hell Gate)

When it comes to attending community events in her capacity as an elected official, Queens Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar is a politician who doesn't let herself be kept out of photo ops by things like "having a plausible reason to be there." She can often be spotted, in one of her signature red dresses, alongside Mayor Eric Adams at various flag raisings, press conferences, and cultural pride events seemingly unrelated to her district in Southeast Queens. 

But her latest round of event-hopping—to Ramadan iftars across the city—has garnered some community blowback. 

This past Saturday, Rajkumar was scheduled to attend a Ramadan iIftar at the Jamaica Muslim Center, outside of the neighborhoods she represents. It was to be the third stop on her "New York City Ramadan Iftar Tour," which had already taken her to an Indian restaurant in Kensington and a banquet hall in Forest Hills.

But before Rajkumar could step through the door of the Jamaica Muslim Center, her invitation got pulled. 

According to Bangladeshi Americans for Political Progress (BAPP), which had launched a campaign against Rajkumar's Ramadan tour, her name was taken off the list for a reason. "Assembly Member Rajkumar is campaigning in neighborhoods outside of her district during these final nights of Ramadan attending iftars throughout the city to give remarks and snap photos with community members that she claims to represent," the statement read. "We are proud that Jamaica Muslim Center protected our community from Assembly Member Rajkumar's opportunistic and performative allyship." BAPP cited Rajkumar's lack of support for Palestinians in Gaza and Muslim communities in Sudan, the Congo, and India as the primary reason she wasn't welcome. "Elected officials who are not interested in protecting our most vulnerable communities don't share the spirit of Ramadan," the statement said. "Such elected officials are not allies and should not join us in breaking fast." 

"Every year, we see the same elected officials come to wish a Eid Mubarak. We are greatly appreciative of their remarks and salutations to Muslims during this time," BAPP wrote in response to questions from Hell Gate. But, they added, "We are not in normal times. And yet they come and expect the status quo. A photo op, some good kebabs, and that’s it. We want to see elected officials actually advocate our interests. We need them to materially change the conditions to advance working-class and immigrant interests for NYC’s Muslim, Bangladeshi, and Hindu communities." Rajkumar's iftar tour, they added, "demonstrate[s] a blatant disregard for the sanctity of these events and highlight[s] her willingness to prioritize personal gain over respect."

The Jamaica Muslim Center iftar was listed as one of Rajkumar's prospective tour stops. So was an event on Saturday in the Bronx, hosted by the Bronx Bangladesh Association. But on Wednesday, the Bronx-based nonprofit released their own missive about Rajkumar via Facebook: "Thank you to everyone for reaching out and sharing your concerns for the upcoming community Iftar!" said the statement. "Assemblywoman Rajkumar was not formally invited by the Bronx Bangladesh Association, local elected officials, or any other sponsors of this event. It seems she has decided to attend of her own accord." The statement instructed concerned parties to reach out to State Senator Nathalia Fernandez, whose office was hosting the event, and added that Fernandez "has already reached out to Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar and notified her that it is best not to attend the event!"

The same day, the nonprofit Hindus for Human Rights released their own statement on Rajkumar's Ramadan Iftar Tour and what they called her "weaponization of Hindu identity for performative allyship" and her alignment with Hindutva, or the right-wing Hindu nationalist movement. "Hindutva is a political project that relies on Islamophobia and casteism to sow the seeds of division and consolidate power among upper-caste Hindus, and the irony of Assembly Member Rajkumar exploiting the holy month of Ramadan for her own political gain is not lost on us," the statement reads. The group also called out Rajkumar's stance on Israel and Gaza, and reiterated the call for her upcoming stops at iftars in Staten Island and the Bronx to be canceled too.

Still, Rajkumar apparently won't be stopped. The same day as the Bronx Bangladesh Association asked her not to gate crash their iftar, the assemblymember made a statement of her own on social media: "I am proud to announce I am adding *even more* stops to my Ramadan Iftar tour in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. The faith, discipline and warmth of Muslim New Yorkers this holy month is an inspiration," she wrote in an Instagram caption.

To BAPP, the dig felt obvious. "We are hoping that any masjid or organization with a conscience will think twice before inviting any politician that doesn’t express empathy for the issues that matter to us or injustices that occur to us," they said. "It’s strange and sad that she finds Muslims’ most somber and sacred month a vehicle to promote and center her presence."

UPDATE: Representatives from Rajkumar's office did not respond directly to a request for comment, but at 12:18 p.m. on Thursday, Chief of Staff Vjola Isufaj tweeted: "New Yorkers LOVE receiving Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar at iftar dinners. Only outliers respond negatively & they do not represent most people. See photos of Rajkumar’s historic 5 Borough Ramadan Tour here."

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