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Breaking Fast, Looking for Peace

Thu, 04/18/2024 - 11:17

East End Muslims gather for Eid ul-Fitr, humanitarian aid top of mind

Women bowed their heads in prayer last Thursday at Agawam Park in Southampton Village, where several dozen Muslims gathered to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr together.
Christine Sampson Photos

Dozens of Muslim men, women, and children gathered on April 10 at Agawam Park in Southampton Village to celebrate Eid ul-Fitr and break their Ramadan fast together with a multicultural potluck-style celebration.

Before they bowed their heads in prayer, the grown-ups contributed charitable donations known as fitra — small amounts, like $12 or $15 — for each member of their families attending the prayer, to account for any mistakes that may have been made during the 30 days of Ramadan.

The money generally goes toward the needy and is required “to show gratitude to Allah for allowing us to observe the obligatory fasts in Ramadan with compassion and steadfastness,” said Dr. Asma Rashid of Southampton, one of the founders of the Islamic Center of the Hamptons, a relatively new faith organization that meets at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork worship center in Bridgehampton.

Khurshid Anwar, a khateeb from the Islamic Center of Long Island in Selden, offered wisdom to children before the Eid ul-Fitr prayer in Southampton Village last week.

As the worshipers contributed fitra, though, unexpected donations also flowed in for another purpose: humanitarian aid. “This is for Gaza,” said one woman as she pressed a $100 bill into Dr. Rashid’s hands. Along with similar donations from others at the prayer service in the park, Dr. Rashid kept them separate from the fitra contributions.

“That was new to me,” she said. “One mother pointed out her high-school-age son, who wanted to contribute his allowance toward the cause of feeding the hungry in Gaza. That’s something we’ve never had before.”

For Muslims, Eid is a time of celebration. But against the international backdrop of military conflict in Gaza, ongoing since Oct. 7, 2023, when the military group known as Hamas attacked Israel and Israel began to fight back, it became hard for some to focus entirely on the spiritual service at hand. Before people began fleeing the war, Gaza was home to some 2.2 million people, the majority of them Palestinian Muslims, NPR reported in October.

“You see, it’s very difficult to take your mind away from the broader context,” said Rizwanul Islam, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, and happened to be visiting his son in Southampton when the Eid prayer service took place.

“But then, on the other hand, these are occasions to remember how important peace is in your life, so one has to work towards that,” Mr. Islam said. “Whenever it is, during fasting or celebrating the end of that, one has to think constantly about the importance of peace.”

The Gaza conflict has been divisive and incredibly hard to talk about, in general, but “I think at this point, humanity is winning and everyone just wants peace,” Dr. Rashid said on Friday, two days after the Eid prayer service. “Whatever the agenda or propaganda may be, however complicated it may seem, I think we have realized that we need to coexist, end violence, and be in a healing phase.”

The Eid ul-Fitr prayer was led by Khurshid Anwar, a religious leader known as a khateeb, who came from the Islamic Center of Long Island mosque in Selden. Imams, who usually lead the services, were in especially high demand this year, Dr. Rashid said, because people were feeling particularly spiritual.

“It was so meaningful because we were very emotionally and spiritually involved this Ramadan,” she said. “Our cause was to not see so much violence around the world. We are lucky and blessed that we have such safety here at home in our communities. The Eid prayer made it even more meaningful for that reason.”

Mr. Islam said religious festivals and holidays like Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha can be a way to bring people of different religions and cultures together. “In this age, one can’t remain isolated. One doesn’t live on an island. One must think about the broader picture,” he said. “There has to be more of what I call mingling not just between Islam and other religions, but between all religions. People should talk to each other and mix with each other. People should try to know more about each other, rather than keeping themselves closed in enclaves. Hopefully this kind of message can spread far and wide.”

Those interested in celebrating Eid ul-Adha with the Islamic Center of the Hamptons can attend a similar service at Agawam Park on June 15 and 16, with details forthcoming.



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