Muslims from across South Jersey gathered at Atlantic City High School on Sunday morning to celebrate one of the holiest days of the Islamic calendar.
Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan, “celebrates the day of happiness,” said Muhammad Ayub, of Galloway Township, the secretary general of the Muslim Community Organization of South Jersey. “We pray together and thank God for giving us the opportunity to go through the holy month.”
Imam Mutahhir Sabree traveled from South Carolina to oversee the services.
“What I’ll be talking about is the unity of the Muslim community here in America, the contributions we can make to help advance society, and the lessons we can learn from this month and why we fast,” Sabree said.
Sabree also cited the good relations among the different religious groups in the area.
“The broader community is very accepting to the Muslim community, unlike in some parts of the country,” he said. “It’s very accepting and welcoming. ... And the fact that this (organization) is multinational is a lesson in how to solve age-old problems like racism and sexism. And by the grace of almighty God, we’ll have a solution.”
Hundreds of worshipers removed their shoes at the entrance to the gymnasium — shoes were even stuffed into the folded-up bleachers to make them easier to find later — and found a spot along the floor.
“We’ve been here (at the high school) for seven to eight years, because we could not accept this many people in a mosque,” Ayub said. “And that’s why this was one of our needs, to try and build a community center in Egg Harbor Township, so in the future we can accept all people there.”
Some of the donations being collected were designated for the center, while others were for existing mosques in the city or the Zakat al-Fitr, the mandatory donation designated for the poor.
“Most have to give $10 to go to the poor,” Ayub said. “It cannot be spent on anything else.”
In addition, every year Muslims must donate 2.5 percent of “extra” funds beyond their needs to the poor, one of the Pillars of Islam, Ayub said.
“This is a blessing, to have the opportunity to do something like this,” said Atlantic City Fifth Ward Councilman Rizwan Malik. “There are all Muslims from all different ethnic groups and all different countries, all going here to do prayer.”
Among them was Djamal Fathi, an Algerian from North Wildwood.
“There’s more people coming together, and it’s different from before,” Fathi said. “There was no gatherings, no community. Now, it’s really, really big. We’re meeting new poeple of different ethnicities, people from all over — Africa, Asia, Europe, South America.”
Afterward, like any true gathering in America, there are snacks.
“We get together and serve doughnuts,” Ayub said, “and serve refreshments for everybody.”
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