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Muslim holy day draws a thousand to Astoria Park

More than 1,000 Queens Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan with Eid al-Fitr last week at Astoria Park, where some of the borough’s elected officials and Muslim leaders called for religious solidarity.

A large crowd of Muslims, most of whom were from western Queens or Jamaica, gathered Friday to pray in Astoria Park’s field to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.

“Eid” is the Arabic word that means “festivity,” while “fitr” translates to “conclusion of the fast.”

Speakers at the event addressed the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, a Florida pastor who vowed to burn copies of the Quran before withdrawing the threat and a controversial plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan.

But religious leaders at the event also emphasized promoting harmony among the borough’s diverse religions and cultures.

“As Muslim Americans, we’ve witnessed a wave of anti-Muslim acts and we’ve been saddened by these acts,” said Sharif Aly, vice president of the Muslim American Society of Queens. “But we continue to believe in the American principles of tolerance and religious freedom.”

The event was hosted by Astoria’s Dar Al-Dawah Mosque on 23rd Avenue in Astoria.

Isabel Bucaram, who works for the society’s outreach committee, said the Eid celebration typically begins with prayer and then is followed by breakfast. Families often celebrate the day by taking their children out to a park or engage in various fun activities.

“It’s a very festive time,” she said. “We’re very happy that people are out here today and that sentiment is high.”

The month of Ramadan involves 30 days of fasting, prayer and charitable works, she said.

Imam Nady Kich, who led the prayer at the service, told the crowd that pastor Terry Jones’s threat to burn copies of the Quran with members of his Gainesville, Fla., church would not hurt Islam. The pastor later decided not to burn copies of the holy book.

“Rest assured: The words of the Quran are burned into our hearts,” the imam said.

Western Queens elected officials told the massive crowd that Astoria was a diverse neighborhood where every type of religion, race and ethnic background would be welcomed.

“In this community, we represent the best of the United States of America,” state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “We’re a diverse community. We respect and welcome all religions, all cultures here.”

Gianaris said he believed the state should allow for city children to take the Eid holiday off from school.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) held a day of community service at Astoria Park Saturday on the Sept. 11 anniversary.

“This is a feast of humility,” he told the crowd at Friday’s event. “This community works together toward peace. We’re all one community.”

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) and Assembly candidate Aravella Simotas also spoke following the Ramadan service. The congresswoman said she wished the celebration could have been witnessed by more U.S. residents.

“If more of my fellow Americans had the chance to spend time with you and break bread together, they would see the charity, kindness, mercy and love for family and it would make our nation stronger,” she said. “We should celebrate those values that connect us.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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