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Muslims on Long Island, as Ramadan ends, see more acceptance

Hempstead Town Clerk Nasrin G. Ahmad, right, with

Hempstead Town Clerk Nasrin G. Ahmad, right, with her assistant Farrah Mozawalla, left, and secretary Jamie Tiso, center, in her office in Town Hall on June 20, 2017, holding a sign for the first Iftar that the Town of Hempstead has ever hosted. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

For the first time in a history spanning more than three centuries, the Town of Hempstead this year held an Iftar, the traditional breaking of the daylong fast at sundown observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The event, which attracted 300 people, was hosted by Supervisor Anthony J. Santino and Nasrin G. Ahmad, the first Muslim clerk in the town’s history. After prayers were recited, those in attendance ate traditional Pakistani and Turkish food.

Muslims have endured a difficult year, with a proposed travel ban focused on those from several Muslim-majority countries pushed by President Donald Trump and terrorist attacks in Europe carried out by people calling themselves Muslims. But as they mark the end of Ramadan on Saturday night and the start the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival, some Muslims also see signs of hope.

Turnout for the June 6 event in Hempstead “knocked me over,” Ahmad said, calling it “wonderful.”

“Obviously it means a lot to me and to my community, but I think for the Town of Hempstead it proves that we are here, we are a town of inclusion, we welcome all our neighbors and new residents into a family,” said Ahmad, who was born in Uganda, grew up in England and immigrated to the United States in 1983.

Other Muslim leaders see encouraging signs of acceptance, too.

“We are lucky to be living on Long Island,” said Habeeb Ahmed, a leader of the Long Island Islamic Center in Westbury. “By and large in Nassau County, the officials are very accepting, very cooperative.”

His mosque hosted an interfaith Iftar that attracted several hundred people, including local officials and religious leaders.

At the Masjid Darul Quran mosque in Bay Shore, members have long had good relations with neighbors, officials and law enforcement, said Dr. Hafiz Rehman, a leader of the mosque. Underscoring the growth of the Muslim community on Long Island, the number of people attending the final Iftar at the mosque has grown from about 400 a decade ago to more than 700 that are expected this year, he said.

The mosque has received a growing number of non-Muslim visitors since Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton, Rehman said. “There is more support since Trump was elected,” he said. “There is always a blessing in disguise.”

Not everyone is optimistic. Mohsen Elsayed, a Muslim who is director of finance for the Town of Islip, said he is deeply discouraged by actions against Muslims that have occurred in various locales across the country since Trump’s election.

“I loved every moment I lived here in this country until recently we find some kind of ignorant people who show the hate and anger toward us for no reason,” said Elsayed, who has lived here for 35 years.

Ramadan is the holiest time of the year for Muslims. In addition to fasting — as many as 17 hours a day this year — it is marked by reflection, prayer, charity and making amends to those one has offended.

It is one of the five pillars of Islam, which with 1.6 billion followers is the largest religion in the world after Christianity and is the fastest-growing major religion. Long Island is home to an estimated 80,000 Muslims.

The end of Ramadan is followed by the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr, which starts Sunday. The first day will begin with special prayer sessions at most of Long Island’s more than two dozen mosques. Attendance has grown so much at the Bay Shore mosque that five prayer sessions are scheduled, starting at 7:30 a.m. and running every hour, Rehman said.

After prayers, the faithful will return to their homes for special meals with family and friends, and children will receive gifts.

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