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Attack on Sikhs overshadows LI Ramadan event

Isma Chaudhry greets guests of different religions to

Isma Chaudhry greets guests of different religions to the Interfaith Iftar, the breaking of the fast for Ramadan, at Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. (Aug. 5, 2012) Credit: Jeremy Bales

Sunday's interfaith dinner at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury -- planned as a feast commemorating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan -- took on a somber tone after Sunday's deadly shootings at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.

"This is very disturbing," Habeeb Ahmed, vice president of the Islamic center, said of what he called a "campaign by hatemongers against religious minorities."

The ninth annual interfaith Iftar, or breaking of the fast, began with a moment of silence for the victims and Ahmed's call for "peaceful coexistence in this beautiful nation."

About 100 people packed the mosque's basement for the Iftar, which comes after a day of fasting from sunrise to sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Gary Kelly, of Pax Christi Long Island in Wyandanch, a Roman Catholic peace organization, said Sunday's shooting at the Sikh temple, which authorities termed a case of domestic terrorism, spurred him to attend in a show of solidarity.

"I thought, 'I've got to come down to make a statement,' " Kelly said. "We've got to clean that stuff out, the prejudice against Muslims and Sikhs."

Over the years, those who regularly attend the dinner have learned how their commonalities -- including their valuing of the "human dignity and worth of every individual" -- outnumber their differences, said Hank Arond, of the Interfaith Alliance and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock.

Rabbi Josh Hearshen, of the Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, who participated for the first time, echoed Arond's sentiments.

"Islam and Judaism have a great deal in common, although people like to focus on the things that divide them," he said.

Bridging divides and buttressing community ties are the event's goals, said organizer Isma Chaudhry, the Islamic center's president-elect.

"It's a chance to get together as a family to break bread. No religious agenda, no political agenda," she said. "Just family."

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