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Prayers for peace end Ramadan fast

After Imam Daud Ahmed Hanif wrapped up his sermon Friday at a Holliswood mosque emphasizing the need for peace and understanding in the world, the nearly 2,000 congregants rose and hugged each other and the phrase “Eid Mubarak,” Arabic for “May you enjoy a blessed festival,” could be heard throughout the crowd.

As the prayers ended and lamb patties, South Asian sweets and potato salad were set out for the Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, women in brightly colored, sequined dresses and men in their best attire greeted one another, saying “asalamalakum,” which means “Peace be upon you” — a routine phrase said over and over but which held an idea especially poignant for those gathered Friday at the Bait-uz-Zafar Mosque in Holliswood.

“Our sect is Muslims who believe the messiah has come, and we’re constantly being persecuted,” said Farida Ahmad, a New Hyde Park resident. “But we like to pride ourselves on being for peace. Extremists have hijacked our religion, but we are for peace and take a stand for peace.”

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the United States, of which Hanif is vice president, recently launched a campaign to educate people about Islam. They have displayed ads about Muslims being for peace on the sides of buses and have conducted door-to-door outreach, during which they dispersed literature about Islam.

“Even in New York, the most diverse city in the world, there are people who may not have talked to Muslims before,” said Asad Bajwa, a Queens Village resident who attended Friday’s ceremony and is the director of public affairs for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. “We’re not aliens. We wanted to bring a positive message about Islam.”

The theme of peace is one that was reiterated throughout Friday’s Eid celebration, and Hanif spoke of the need for cultural understanding among different religions and cultures throughout the world during his sermon.

“Our peace-loving Ahmadiyya Muslim community has been made the victim of terrorism for decades,” he said. “In the immediate past on May 28, 2010, 86 Ahmadi worshippers were martyred during Friday service in Lahore, Pakistan, by the terrorists. Even during this very month of Ramadan, some more members have been martyred in the same country. Despite all this, our membership did not retaliate. They rather remain peaceful.”

Those celebrating Eid in Holliswood last week said the need for religious understanding is of crucial importance in the United States now, in light of a Florida pastor’s recent proposal, which was ultimately called off, to hold a Quran burning Sept. 11 and the controversy surrounding plans for an Islamic cultural center to be built a couple blocks away from Ground Zero.

“You want debate and dialogue, but the words have become hateful and that’s dangerous,” Bajwa said.

The mood at Bait-uz-Zafar, which has been in Holliswood for decades, was celebratory Friday, as the month of Ramadan came to a close. During Ramadan, Muslims do not eat between dawn and sunset and focus on their spiritual life, including praying more.

“We go through this exercise so we can get closer to God,” said Rabi Ahmed, who attended Bait-uz-Zafar’s Eid event. “You do a self-analysis and say what aspect of your life do you want to improve and you make that permanent.”

Saira Bajwa, of Queens Village, noted Muslims emphasize charity during Ramadan and the need to help out the poor and those left behind in society.

“One of the consequences of fasting is you realize what people without food go through,” Bajwa said. “People give so much more to charity during that month.”

Many individuals in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have given a lot of money and supplies to flood victims in Pakistan, and Bajwa said a number of the members have donated to Humanity First, a nonprofit that works in connection with the United Nations in Pakistan.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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