27/01/2018 6:22 AM IST | Updated 30/01/2018 12:24 AM IST

Allies Form Human Chain Around Muslims Praying During Travel Ban Protest

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
Interfaith allies make a circle around Muslims praying in New York City's Washington Square Park on Jan. 26, 2018. 

More than 100 interfaith demonstrators gathered in New York City on Friday to mark the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s first executive order on immigration, which included a ban on travel for residents from several Muslim-majority countries.

People gathered in the city’s Washington Square Park to voice their continued disapproval of the president’s order, which sparked nationwide protests, including at New York’s airports and public spaces.

After listening to a leader sing out the Islamic call to prayer, interfaith allies linked hands to form a human chain of protection around Muslims as they knelt down in the public space for Friday prayers. 

The Rev. Dr. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, told HuffPost she hoped the action provided a feeling of safety and security for the worshippers, many of whom were students from nearby New York University.

“It’s practically important and symbolically important to stand with people of different faith traditions,” Breyer said. “It’s what we should do as Americans.”

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
Saima Anjam, senior director of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, prays during a protest event.

The rally at the square on Friday was an echo of what took place in the same location last January, when up to a thousand protesters gathered the night before the first travel ban was issued to voice frustration with Trump’s plans. 

The president issued the order on immigration on Jan. 27, 2017, but was forced to issue two revised versions after court challenges. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a challenge to the third version of the ban. All three iterations placed restrictions on citizens from mainly Muslim-majority countries. 

watered-down version of the ban went into effect in June and expired in October. Trump also drastically cut America’s refugee admissions quota to 45,000 for the 2018 fiscal year ― the lowest it’s ever been.

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
Asad Dandia from the Islamic Center at NYU leads prayers at the rally.

Tamara Ilias, a Syrian refugee who spoke at Friday’s rally, told HuffPost she was shocked when she first heard about the travel ban. After fleeing civil war in Syria, she said her family lived in Lebanon for one year, waiting to be reunited with relatives in New York. The Lebanese government places restrictions on Syrian refugees’ ability to live and work in the country. She said her four children were unable to attend school, like many other refugee kids in Lebanon.

With the help of Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement program, Ilias and her family were able to resettle in New York last May.  

Now, she’s speaking up for the many others waiting in limbo in Lebanon.

“There are many people like me,” Ilias told HuffPost. “I’m lucky, I’m here. But many people are waiting, many people need help. Many people have families, have kids. It’s not easy, it’s so hard.”

Damon Dahlen/HuffPost
People take part in a prayer and protest at Washington Square Park to mark the anniversary of Trump's first travel ban.

Trump’s drastic cuts to refugee admissions came at a time when an unprecedented 65 million people are displaced worldwide, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency. 

Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, one of the groups that organized the rally, said that in the months that followed the ban, the Trump administration’s attacks on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and those with temporary protected status betrayed an anti-immigrant agenda. 

Although he said the initial fervor around protesting the travel ban has died down since last January, Awawdeh hopes Friday’s rally shows that there’s much work left to do.

“The Trump administration didn’t just go after the Muslims. They were the first targets,” Awawdeh said. “This is going to continue to be a fight and a struggle.”