Wilson Fache writes: New York City is well known for its numerous ethnic quarters, like the tourist-packed Little Italy or the oddly authentic Chinatown. Far less well known however is a small neighbourhood that locals used to call “Little Syria”.
From the 19th to the first half of the 20th century, that enclave was the economic and cultural centre of the Arab diaspora in the US; that is before it was demolished in order to build a tunnel and then later, in the sixties, the World Trade Centre.
These few blocks were home to a large number of immigrants mainly coming from what was then known as “Greater Syria” (Bilad al-Sham), a region ruled by the Ottoman Empire that nowadays includes Syria as well as Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and a part of southern Turkey.
Civic associations like the Washington Street Historical Society have been advocating for years to raise awareness about the largely unknown quarter and preserve the few buildings that are left, such as St. George’s Syrian Catholic Church, which is located on Washington street.
For many years is was assumed that the neighbourhood was only ever inhabited by Christians. Since there was no record of a place of worship dedicated to another faith, it was assumed there had never been one. Then a few months ago, a professor at the University of Colorado Denver doing research on early Islam in the US came across an article entitled “Mohammedans now have a place of worship here”. [Continue reading…]