Imam Mehdad Islam, shown at the Islaamic Center of Mastic-Shirley,...

Imam Mehdad Islam, shown at the Islaamic Center of Mastic-Shirley, said many Long Island Muslims have been beset with grief over the Israel-Hamas war Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

One of the key pillars of the holy month of Ramadan is charity. And with an estimated 30,000 Palestinians dead in the Gaza Strip, and thousands more in danger of starvation or dying from lack of medical care, many Muslims on Long Island want to help.

But they say they can’t. With Ramadan set to begin at sunset on Sunday, Muslims here say that helping to get food, medicine, water and other basics into the besieged enclave is nearly impossible. 

“It’s helplessness all around,” said Dr. Isma Chaudhry, a board member and spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury.

Ramadan, normally a time of joy, celebration and introspection, for many this year will be one of the most somber — and even wrenching — in memory, according to Muslim leaders on Long Island.

After the Oct. 7 attack by the militant Palestinian group Hamas against Israel that left 1,200 people dead — and which local Muslim leaders said they condemned — Israel launched a punishing counterattack it says is aimed at wiping out Hamas.

The monthslong offensive of the Israel-Hamas war has leveled large swaths of Gaza, killed thousands of Palestinians and left many others on the brink of survival, according to authorities in Gaza.

On Long Island, home to an estimated 100,000 Muslims, many have watched the devastation unfold with horror.

“What happened in Gaza is beyond what happened on Oct. 7, which we obviously condemn,” said Mamoon Iqbal, a board member of Masjid Noor, a mosque in Huntington.

“We see the pictures, we see the videos," he said. "Anyone with a heart understands that this is beyond politics now.”

Israeli officials say they are trying to destroy a terrorist organization that invaded its land, killed hundreds of innocent people, took more than 200 hostages and threatens Israel's existence. They said the unfortunate price of the campaign is the damage to civilians caught in the crossfire.

As Ramadan has approached, many local Muslims have been beset with grief over the conflict, which they feel helpless to do anything about, said Imam Mehdad Islam, a religious leader of the Islaamic Center of Mastic-Shirley.

“Oftentimes we see worshippers tearing and crying in their prayers when they pray for those people who are being oppressed,” he said.

“I think more innocent people are dying unfortunately than the people that are perpetrators,” he added. “We want peace and unity and understanding between all religions, all the faiths, all countries. We condemn violence, even if it is done by Muslims.”

The conflict is in many ways the opposite of what Ramadan is supposed to be about. The holiest time of the year for Muslims, it commemorates the time when the faithful believe the Prophet Muhammad received the Quran, the holiest book in Islam, from the angel Gabriel in the early seventh century.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset — fulfilling one of the five pillars of their faith. They must refrain from eating or drinking, even water.

At night, they attend prayer services at their mosque that can last until midnight, then get up before sunrise to begin the prayers and fasting again.

Beyond that, they are expected to perform acts of charity and service, engage in self-reflection and focus on their spirituality.

Each night when sunset falls, Muslims engage in an “iftar” or “break fast.” This year, some find it cruelly ironic.

Many of the faithful, “instead of looking forward to breaking that fast with a joyous face or mood, they’re going to be like, ‘What about those people that are being starved to death?’ There is no sunrise or sundown or breaking fast for them,” Islam said.

Islam and other Muslim leaders said they expect the iftars to be toned down, with simpler food and less of it, to show solidarity with those suffering in Gaza.

The holy month culminates with the Eid al-Fitr, three days of prayer and celebrations when the faithful don fancy traditional clothing and enjoy lavish meals in one another’s homes. Islam said those, too, likely will take on a less exuberant tone.

Some mosques have attempted to send help to Gaza but found that few if any organizations are capable of doing so, Chaudhry said. When people donate money, her mosque in Westbury is putting it in a fund that will be used if sending aid becomes more feasible.

“They are calling left and right and asking how they can help,” she said.

Iqbal’s mosque in Huntington wants to help too. “Obviously we are ready to do it, but the question is accessibility, to actually get it over there,” he said. “It’s completely embargoed, and there is no way for any of the supplies to get in” from most nonprofit groups.

“If there is a humanitarian corridor or if something opens up, everyone wants to help out,” he said.

Some limited aid is arriving in Gaza, through U.S. military airdrops ordered this month by President Joe Biden and through the UN humanitarian agency UNRWA. Biden ordered the airdrops after at least 115 Palestinians were killed Feb. 29 in a chaotic stampede to pull goods off an aid convoy.

On Thursday, Biden announced the United States will help build a floating pier off Gaza to let boats deliver tons of food and other aid.

With the scenes of desperation in Gaza unrelenting, Iqbal said Ramadan will be a much more somber affair for him and other Muslims.

“How can one enjoy in your house when you know your neighbor is suffering?” he said. “You can’t have merriment and joy when there is such rampant suffering in the world.”

One of the key pillars of the holy month of Ramadan is charity. And with an estimated 30,000 Palestinians dead in the Gaza Strip, and thousands more in danger of starvation or dying from lack of medical care, many Muslims on Long Island want to help.

But they say they can’t. With Ramadan set to begin at sunset on Sunday, Muslims here say that helping to get food, medicine, water and other basics into the besieged enclave is nearly impossible. 

“It’s helplessness all around,” said Dr. Isma Chaudhry, a board member and spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury.

Ramadan, normally a time of joy, celebration and introspection, for many this year will be one of the most somber — and even wrenching — in memory, according to Muslim leaders on Long Island.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims, starts Sunday at sunset.
  • With at least 30,000 dead in the Gaza Strip and thousands more at risk of dying from starvation or lack of medical care, the normally joyous holy month is expected to be somber.
  • Many Muslims on Long Island want to help but say that sending aid to the besieged enclave is nearly impossible.

After the Oct. 7 attack by the militant Palestinian group Hamas against Israel that left 1,200 people dead — and which local Muslim leaders said they condemned — Israel launched a punishing counterattack it says is aimed at wiping out Hamas.

The monthslong offensive of the Israel-Hamas war has leveled large swaths of Gaza, killed thousands of Palestinians and left many others on the brink of survival, according to authorities in Gaza.

On Long Island, home to an estimated 100,000 Muslims, many have watched the devastation unfold with horror.

“What happened in Gaza is beyond what happened on Oct. 7, which we obviously condemn,” said Mamoon Iqbal, a board member of Masjid Noor, a mosque in Huntington.

“We see the pictures, we see the videos," he said. "Anyone with a heart understands that this is beyond politics now.”

Israeli officials say they are trying to destroy a terrorist organization that invaded its land, killed hundreds of innocent people, took more than 200 hostages and threatens Israel's existence. They said the unfortunate price of the campaign is the damage to civilians caught in the crossfire.

As Ramadan has approached, many local Muslims have been beset with grief over the conflict, which they feel helpless to do anything about, said Imam Mehdad Islam, a religious leader of the Islaamic Center of Mastic-Shirley.

“Oftentimes we see worshippers tearing and crying in their prayers when they pray for those people who are being oppressed,” he said.

“I think more innocent people are dying unfortunately than the people that are perpetrators,” he added. “We want peace and unity and understanding between all religions, all the faiths, all countries. We condemn violence, even if it is done by Muslims.”

Holiest time for Muslims

The conflict is in many ways the opposite of what Ramadan is supposed to be about. The holiest time of the year for Muslims, it commemorates the time when the faithful believe the Prophet Muhammad received the Quran, the holiest book in Islam, from the angel Gabriel in the early seventh century.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset — fulfilling one of the five pillars of their faith. They must refrain from eating or drinking, even water.

At night, they attend prayer services at their mosque that can last until midnight, then get up before sunrise to begin the prayers and fasting again.

Beyond that, they are expected to perform acts of charity and service, engage in self-reflection and focus on their spirituality.

Each night when sunset falls, Muslims engage in an “iftar” or “break fast.” This year, some find it cruelly ironic.

Many of the faithful, “instead of looking forward to breaking that fast with a joyous face or mood, they’re going to be like, ‘What about those people that are being starved to death?’ There is no sunrise or sundown or breaking fast for them,” Islam said.

Islam and other Muslim leaders said they expect the iftars to be toned down, with simpler food and less of it, to show solidarity with those suffering in Gaza.

The holy month culminates with the Eid al-Fitr, three days of prayer and celebrations when the faithful don fancy traditional clothing and enjoy lavish meals in one another’s homes. Islam said those, too, likely will take on a less exuberant tone.

Hindrances to helping

Some mosques have attempted to send help to Gaza but found that few if any organizations are capable of doing so, Chaudhry said. When people donate money, her mosque in Westbury is putting it in a fund that will be used if sending aid becomes more feasible.

“They are calling left and right and asking how they can help,” she said.

Iqbal’s mosque in Huntington wants to help too. “Obviously we are ready to do it, but the question is accessibility, to actually get it over there,” he said. “It’s completely embargoed, and there is no way for any of the supplies to get in” from most nonprofit groups.

“If there is a humanitarian corridor or if something opens up, everyone wants to help out,” he said.

Some limited aid is arriving in Gaza, through U.S. military airdrops ordered this month by President Joe Biden and through the UN humanitarian agency UNRWA. Biden ordered the airdrops after at least 115 Palestinians were killed Feb. 29 in a chaotic stampede to pull goods off an aid convoy.

On Thursday, Biden announced the United States will help build a floating pier off Gaza to let boats deliver tons of food and other aid.

With the scenes of desperation in Gaza unrelenting, Iqbal said Ramadan will be a much more somber affair for him and other Muslims.

“How can one enjoy in your house when you know your neighbor is suffering?” he said. “You can’t have merriment and joy when there is such rampant suffering in the world.”

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