This is separate from the “little mosque in JFK — in the parking lot, taxi lot.”
The mosque at JFK Airport is more than just a prayer space—it’s a community
The mosque, a maroon-carpeted room where an imam leads daily prayers, is one of only seven Muslim prayer spaces in America’s largest airports, according to a recent Pew Research Center report—and it’s the busiest in the country, according to the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains.
“It’s the only mosque of its kind in the country,” said Ahmet Yuceturk, the imam at the JFK International Islamic Center and a chaplain with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs New York City’s airports. “It’s its own mosque, not just a room, which is what most airport mosques are,” Yuceturk continued. “We are our own place, we have our own services, we are our own community within the chapels here. It’s very different from anything in America.”
The mosque holds services five times daily, welcoming Muslims of all backgrounds and beliefs, whether they are New Yorkers who work in the airport or travelers who are stopping to pray in between flights. Depending on the time of day and whether there is a holiday like Ramadan, attendance ranges from just a few people to a crowd of more than 50 spilling out into the hallway; usually about three-quarters are airline passengers while the rest are local workers. In addition to holding services, the mosque doubles as a community center, offering Arabic lessons, Koran discussions and communal meals—along with an occasional wedding.
The mosque also provides aid to passengers who are lost or stranded, in keeping with the Muslim belief in the value of helping strangers.
The JFK International Islamic Center is part of a larger chapels area at JFK’s Terminal 4, which was built in 1955 to house a general Christian place of worship. It was remodeled in 1966 to include Catholic, Protestant and Jewish prayer spaces, and in 2001 a separate multifaith room was built to meet rising demand for a prayer space for the terminal’s Muslim, Hindu and Sikh travelers and workers, nearly a decade after the United American Muslim Association first proposed the idea. Services were intermittent and run by volunteers at first, but when Yuceturk joined as the prayer space’s first full-time imam in 2008, the room became a full-fledged mosque. Since then attendance has risen steadily, with Muslim airport workers spreading the word.
Father Chris Piasta—a Catholic chaplain at JFK and LaGuardia airports, who is also a spokesman for the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains, the governing body for airport chapels around the world—said he has never seen a mosque like JFK International Islamic Center in his travels across America’s air transport hubs.
“What we have at JFK is rather unusual compared to other airports,” Piasta said. He hopes to bring more diversity to the largely Christian prayer spaces in airports across the country. In October, the aviation chaplains association will convene in New York to discuss “bringing the world together” through their work, Piasta said.
“We are trying to be open to everybody,” Piasta said. “We have to answer a broad, important question: How can we serve people who are different from ourselves?”
Yuceturk, the imam, sees the JFK mosque as an opportunity to contradict stereotypes about Islam.
“When you look at politics or you look around the world, a lot of negative things are being said about Islam,” Yuceturk said. “But we’re not representing anyone…. We are just regular Muslims. We have no political agenda. We’re just living our lives, earning our living for our families.
“This is how we act. This is who we are.”
That is how they act. After 9/11 – when Muslims killed nearly 3,000 Americans – they demanded and got a mosque built inside the JFK airport. Separate, apart from the rest of the world. Supremacist. Muslim only.
A story on the mosque website indicates they are also recruiting at Riker’s Island prison.