Thousands came out to pay their respects and mourn the victims of the apartment blaze which claimed the lives of 17 people, including nine children. Most of the victims were from The Gambia and Guinea in Africa. Photo: Daleel Jabir Muhammad

by Daleel Jabir Muhammad

NEW YORK—Inside and outside of the Islamic Cultural Center in the Bronx, New York, families, friends, supporters, and elected officials gathered to mourn and to attend funeral services of the victims of the tragic Bronx fire that claimed the lives of 17 people, including nine children.

A week prior to the funeral services a fire broke out at 333 East 181 Street in the Belmont section of the Bronx due to a malfunctioning space heater used to heat one of the apartments in the complex. As the fire engulfed the apartment and smoke billowed throughout the building due to inoperable self-closing doors, it quickly spread throughout the building causing the death of the numerous victims. Cries of neglect, mismanagement and injustice have been used by concerned citizens and officials to describing the tragedy.

(L-R): New York Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Speaker Adrienne Adams, Imam Talib Abdur Rashid and Imam Sulaiman Konate. Photo: Daleel Jabir Muhammad

Several tents were set up outside the Muslim masjid to accommodate the thousands of people who could not enter due to capacity restrictions. Inside the main area of the mosque sat family, dignitaries, and elected officials who were there to grieve, support and offer condolences as 17 coffins were brought in to funeralize the victims of this devasting tragedy.


Attendees at the funeral service, or janazah, included elected officials who offered their condolences and support to surviving African family members who were predominately immigrant Muslims from The Gambia and Guinea. Sheikh Musa Drammeh, one of the presiding imams for the service,  shared how “normally janazahs are private but this one was made public to dramatize the point that the deceased didn’t have to die because of the neglect they faced in a building that they lived in with inadequate heat and the need to use space heaters in order to keep warm.” 

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “These coffins and the lives they represented wrenched the hearts of all New Yorkers. To come together is not enough. We have to do much more to help our immigrant families. I pledge to do everything that I can on the federal level to make that happen.”

Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson assured the families impacted that they were not alone. “We are going to be with you in your greatest hour of need. We know why we are here, systemic racism, government neglect and landlord failure,” she said.

“I mourn with you, hurt with you and I am devastated and heartbroken, but I know we have work to do, because the death of the men, women and children will not be in vain,” she continued. “We will not let this happen again. Everyone needs to be held accountable regardless of what title you wear in front of your name. We will carry on in their honor and pray their legacies live on forever and ever.”

Coffins, draped in black cloth with gold hems, at the Islamic Cultural Center at janazah (Islamic funeral service) for victims of the deadly fire. Photo: Akbar Muhammad

Newly elected New York  mayor Eric Adams shared reassuring words to the grieving families as some were crying in the audience. “I join with my colleagues in government to say that I am not just your mayor, I am your brother, and I am here to express the pain that all New Yorkers are experiencing. We are not just here to mourn with you today but here to be with you throughout this entire journey.”

The funeral services included New York state government dignitaries, Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin and State Attorney General Leticia James. Mr. Benjamin gave a powerful reassurance. “I want you to know that the Bronx is not just a part of NYC but it’s part of NYS.

As lieutenant governor I say we will be with you to make sure this tragedy never happens again and make sure all of the families who have been impacted by this fire know that the state will stand up and support them. The state is providing $2 million in a victim’s compensation fund to join with the resources that are gathered elsewhere,” he said.  

Attorney General James emphasized that this tragedy was about neglect. “This is about individuals who have been historically ignored. And, yes brother, it’s about all Africans. We pray for the 17 that lost their lives. We pray that this never happens again, but we also say that individuals who are responsible for the neglect of that building mustbe held accountable,” she said.

“No one should have to use space heaters and live in buildings where doors do not close. There are conditions in that building that should have been corrected and inspected. Funds were given to the owners of the building to correct those conditions. We stand with you today. As NYS attorney general, I will stand with you now and forever to use the law both as a sword and a shield to protect you. May the victims rest in peace,” added Attorney General James.

Crowd outside of funeral service on Jan. 16 for the victims of an apartment fire in the Bronx in New York City’s deadliest blaze in decades. Photo: Akbar Muhammad

Family spokesperson and imam Sheikh Musa Drammeh explained that the tragedy has two phases. The first phase concludes when the bodies are buried and the second phase starts the day when long term services are provided for the survivors, their loved ones and everyone’s family affected in New York and in Africa, he explained.

In addition to the many lives lost, Sheikh Musa Drammeh recalled his personal relationship with the late Student Eastern Regional Minister Abdul Hafeez Muhammad and was glad the Nation of Islam attended the funeral service. “Outside of the NOI, I think I was one of the closest imams to Minister Abdul Hafeez Muhammad. We used to sit down at meetings, and he would say that I love you not only because we are one ummah (community) and family but brother I love you in a way that can’t be described,” the imam reflected.

“Before he passed away, we had a sit-down meeting in the Bronx discussing ways to help in The Gambia.”  He continued sharing his thoughts on Student Minister Hafeez Muhammad. “I want the world to know how wonderful my brother Hafeez was. I want everyone to know how pious, how generous he was. Also, how strong his leadership was and how valuable of an asset he was to me and to us. I will always regard him as my big brother, and I will always honor his memory. This is from my heart, and this is the truth,” said Sheikh Drammeh.

The Nation of Islam under the guidance of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan traveled to The Gambia, during his World Friendship Tour and built a mosque and school for the village of Juffureh in memory of author Alex Haley who discovered his family in this village and wrote the book “Roots.”

Rapper Cardi B, who is from the Bronx, offered to help pay the funeral costs of the victims. She also committed to paying the repatriation expenses for victims who will be buried in Gambia, reported the mayor’s office.

Sheikh Drammeh is from the Drammeh family in The Gambia and is helping to aid the victims of the tragic Bronx fire in New York City.

For information on assistance efforts, call 718-822-5555.