Aoun Aqueel at The Shah-E-Najaf Mosque on Thursday, March 31,...

Aoun Aqueel at The Shah-E-Najaf Mosque on Thursday, March 31, 2022. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, but for the past two years, the pandemic has prevented the faithful on Long Island from gathering in large groups for prayer and festive meals.

Now, with the latest COVID-19 surge fading, Muslims across the Island are gearing up for Friday at sunset, the start of the holy month, with great hopes they can get back to nearly normal.

“It’s really an amazing time of year for Muslim-Americans,” said Dr. Uzma Syed, who worships at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury among other mosques, and is an infectious disease specialist at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip.

“We’ve all been through so much in the past couple of years," she said, "and we’re really looking forward to this spiritual time and rejoicing and being able to celebrate.”

Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for a month during Ramadan, fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam. The faithful must refrain from eating or drinking any liquid, even water.

They also attend special prayer services at their mosques, often late into the night and starting again around sunrise each day.

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

The holy month 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 7th Century.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, it shut down Ramadan prayer services in mosques as well as gatherings for festive meals with family and friends.

“There was a lot of anxiety and fear,” Syed said. “It was a very difficult time.”

In 2021, it got a little better but this year will be the first close-to-normal Ramadan in three years, she said. 

“People are cautiously optimistic,” Syed said. “Things are better right now.”

Many planning to observe the holy month are vaccinated and boosted, she said, and warmer weather means more outdoor activities.

For the first time since 2019, many Long Island mosques will hold traditional nighttime prayers and other rituals on site. But some are still making adjustments.

Masjid Darul Quran mosque in Bay Shore, for instance, will not hold an in-person breaking of the fast each night as it usually does. Instead, the faithful will be able to pick up “to-go” bags of food they can eat at home, before returning later for the night prayers, said Imam Muhammad Ajmal, the spiritual head of the mosque.

One house of worship that has special cause to hope for a joyous Ramadan is the Shah-E-Najaf mosque in Brentwood. Last May, two people partially burned a sacred religious flag flying outside the mosque and scrawled pro-Donald Trump graffiti on its marble base, Suffolk police said.

The incident left mosque members in shock and worried, said one of its leaders, Aoun Aqueel. “We don’t know how it happened, but I guess there are bad people around,” he said.

No arrests have been made in the attack, which is being investigated as a hate crime, Suffolk police said Thursday.

It was not the first incident at the mosque. Islamophobic material was dropped around the grounds of the facility in 2016, while swastikas were written on its driveway in 2014, officials said. In a 2007 break-in, swastikas and racist graffiti were written on the mosque walls.

Aqueel said police have stepped up security around the mosque, and leaders hope the incidents have ended. They want this Ramadan to be filled with joy.

“Thank God we are out of that phase now,” he said. The message of the mosque this Ramadan “is peace for everyone.”

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