By Arao Ameny
This article was published on Sept. 15, 2001 in Vol 1. Issue 2
Bronx, New York—For the third year in a row, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., continues to reach out to growing Muslim communities in the Bronx during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.
On Thursday Aug. 25, Diaz hosted the third annual Iftar, or breaking of the fast,dinner at formal gathering in the dinning hall at his office headquarters at 851 Grand Concourse.
A diverse group of guests from various immigrant communities from Southeast Asia, Middle East, the Latino community and masajids or mosques were present, including a significant number of West African Muslim communities and their Muslim American children.
Bronx community members, both Muslim and non-Muslim, came together to take part in the annual Iftar Dinner and celebrated Muslim Americans who are making contributions in the borough and the larger New York City area.
Diaz made a special presentation to 18-year-old Mbosseh Njie, a Gambian-born student from John F. Kennedy High School who successfully integrated into her new adopted home in the Bronx and excelled in school. Njie is also a summer intern at Muslim Women’s Institute For Research and Development.
Holding a certificate of honor, Njie said that the month of Ramadan is important because it is a time to help others. “It is a time to remember homeless people, remember Allah or God. Even though you are not Muslim, you still need to pray,” Njie said.
Njie gave advice to youth, saying, “After Ramadan, some people change and start wearing things that show their skin and I want to tell youth to remember that Ramadan is not only one month to praise God or obey,” she said.
The eighteen-year-old, who wants to be a nurse, said that youth should follow rules and pray because “we should not do this only for Ramadan; we should do it all the time.”
“Non-Muslims can learn about what the meaning of Ramadan is,” Njie said about individuals from other faiths who attended the Iftar dinner.
Bronx Borough President Diaz, a Christian, said he wanted to use the Iftar dinner celebration as an opportunity to “recognize individuals [from Muslim communities] who have done well for themselves, for their families and for the Bronx.”
Diaz continued by saying “If we are to move forward, we must see the contributions of men and women of Islamic faith,” which was followed by a loud roar of applause from the audience.
Trinidadian-born Dr. Nurah Amat’ullah is the founder of the Muslim Women Institute for Research and Development said that she hopes the event brought more understanding and acceptance of Muslim communities.
Dr. Amat’uallah’s organization serves both Muslim and non-Muslim women. “We are a multifaceted agency which focuses on three main areas: emergency food and hunger relief; public health, education, awareness and outreach and serving the transitional needs of new immigrants.—we do that for all communities—Muslim and non-Muslim,” she said.
Dr. Amat’ullah said that she hopes this Iftar Dinner will help with religious integration and understanding in the Bronx and other communities in New York City.
“I hope this event will see Muslims in the community as full members of the community,” she stated.
“I hope Muslims are seen as neighbors, as good neighbors and bring to the forefront an essential teaching or pillar of Islam which is that as vice agents of the earth, we should serve all humanity,” she continued.
“The planning committee which has worked with the borough president’s office for the past three years hopes that this event helps to integrate the Muslim community into the broader community where do things that will benefit the entire borough [Bronx] in its full diversity,” Amat’ullah asserted.
She said that the Bronx has been spared some of the Islamaphobia and discrimination that has occurred in other boroughs, saying that “it speaks to the leadership starting at the borough president level has been very intentional in being inclusive of the Muslim Community in the Bronx,” Amat’tullah said.
Some of the presentations during the event included Muhammad Drammeh, who recited verses from the Qu’ran. Drammeh joined fellow students from the Bronx-based Islamic Leadership School on stage to recite the ABCs in rhyme, assigning each letter to a word in Islam and defining the meaning.
Borough President Diaz honored Muslim Americans Bahir Mustafa, Sussie Lozada and Abdul Razzaq for their contributions to Bronx communities.
Mustafa is a member of the American Muslim Law Enforcement Officers Association. Sussie Lozada, a Dominican, is a Latino Muslim and recent convert to Islam, who had been a crucial voice in campaigns to advocate for Muslim holidays in New York City public schools. Razzaq is a Pakistani-born New Yorker and community leader from the Madni Masjid in the Bronx.
Borough President Diaz said that the lowest incident of discrimination against Muslims, out of all the boroughs, was the Bronx, saying that more needs to be done to make sure the Muslims are integrated into Bronx communities and treated fairly.
Diaz congratulated the Muslim community, saying “thank you for bringing diversity to the Bronx.”
Office of New York City Comptroller, John Liu, said this [Iftar dinner celebration] was an opportunity to bring people of all backgrounds and professions together to sit down and eat together. Liu thanked the Borough President Diaz for hosting the event, saying “Thank you Borough President and thank to the planning committee. This is exactly what we need in this time, especially in this day, in the Bronx, in God’s country. Assalamu Alaikum, Ramadan Kareem! [Peace be upon you. Ramadan is generous]” Liu said.
Mohammed Hadash led Athan or call to prayer before the Ifar dinner started. Muslims and non-Muslims shared in Iftar or breaking of the fast first with dates, the fruit that the prophet Muhammad broke his fast with and water. It was then followed with rice, chicken, salad, beans, bread and other dishes.
Arao Ameny is a Ugandan-born journalist interested in interfaith dialogue and Abrahamic religions. Follow her at @araoameny on Twitter.