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Muslim holy day draws thousands to Jamaica HS

A celebration of the holiest day on the Islamic calendar brought the religion’s message of peace and togetherness to a crowd of as many as 28,000 worshipers who packed the Jamaica High School football field to the gills Friday morning.

The holiday of Eid al-Fitr is a day for Muslims to gather together in their finest traditional garb and pray and remember the story of their prophet Muhammad’s fasting, which Muslims across the world emulated for the 30 days of Ramadan, which ends with the breaking of their fasts the night before Eid.

“One of the legacies of our prophet was that he broke his fast by eating dates to signify it’s not just another day of fasting,” said Jamaica Hills resident Mohammad Hoque, a member of the Jamaica Muslim Center, which hosted the event. “Today’s a time for being with family and doing good and enjoying the true message of Islam: the oneness of God.”

This year’s gathering drew a massive crowd. Various representatives of the Jamaica Muslim Center estimated the teeming mass to number between 10,000 and 28,000 people, who filled the Jamaica High football field at 167-01 Gothic Drive in Jamaica Hills from end zone to end zone and sideline to sideline, standing so close together that Imam Abu Jafar Beg of the Muslim center had to ask them to press their feet against their neighbors’ on their colorful prayer rugs.

Attendees said the annual event put more emphasis on peace and understanding and came with added import this year in light of recent anti-Muslim actions and sentiments.

The recent stabbing of a Jamaica taxi driver allegedly over his Islamic faith, the contentious debates over the Park51 Muslim center planned to be built in downtown Manhattan and a Florida pastor’s proposal to burn Qurans on the anniversary of 9/11 have brought religious tensions to a head in recent months.

Shamsi Ali, director of the Jamaica center, said that for Muslims Eid is a day of joy, but that it is also a way for people of other faiths to see that Islam is a peaceful religion.

“We are living in a very challenging and critical time. Intolerance is very high, and ignorance,” he told the worshipers. “But Islam is the most peaceful teaching, the most tolerant teaching. If people want to do something ignorant, such as the burning of the Quran, our response as Muslims should be ‘peace unto you’ no matter what.”

City Comptroller John Liu came to the event Friday and spoke on the importance of understanding between faiths.

“This is a challenging time in many ways. It is the eve of 9/11,” he told the hushed crowd. “We all have to continue in the struggle for equality and fairness and equal treatment.”

Beg led a lengthy service, during which prayers were spoken and sung in English and Arabic, blessing the United States, the victims of the Pakistani floods and the victims of 9/11 while emphasizing the message of peace and understanding even in the most difficult circumstances.

“We have to love everybody, and we have to pray for everybody. We Muslims have to help all mankind,” he told the enthralled crowd. “We grieve Jesus, we grieve Moses, we grieve all the prophets. We have respect for all religions.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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