With COVID Easing, New Islamic Center in Jersey City Excited to Host Community Ramadan Meals | faith matters
Islam has one of the strictest periods of fasting and abstinence of any major religion: Ramadan, a 30-day period during which healthy Muslims fast from drinking, eating and anger from dawn to dusk.
Leaders of the Al-Tawheed Islamic Center on West Side Avenue in the Marion neighborhood of Jersey City, however, are excited about Ramadan this year. Their new $5 million center opened last year during the pandemic and their nightly fast-breaking community gatherings have been severely restricted. Now with the easing of COVID they are almost back to normal.
Devotees can now break their fast at sunset and share their meals communally, although plates are prepared in advance and distributed instead of having food served along a food line.
“We can all eat together,” said Kamel Haddouche, the centre’s executive director, who takes pride in every nook and cranny of the 5,000 square foot space.
There are three levels with two mosques or centers of worship.
The first floor mosque is the smaller of the two and is used for prayers five times a day. Around it are offices, meeting rooms and a ghusl, or washing room, where the bodies are prepared for the Muslim funeral held in the mosque.
The second floor houses the largest mosque, which can accommodate hundreds of men. The women’s cult is a separate, enclosed area above called the mezzanine and considered the third floor. This mosque is used for Friday prayers, which attract the most people each week.
There is also a conference room and a reading room.
The new center opened on May 7, 2021 and since then entry has been limited to comply with state COVID guidelines by wearing masks and observing social distancing.
Ibrahim Edlewak, the centre’s president, put the membership at 1,500, although they have no official registration.
The new installation is the second from the center.
In 2014, a huge fire destroyed their original center. The center then purchased property on Logan Avenue across the street, which allowed members to pray and eat breakfasts for Ramadan. Next to it is a parking lot and another building that will eventually house their first elementary school.
Haddouche, 62, emigrated from Algeria to the United States in 1995 and was a member of the board of directors before his appointment as director of the center.
“I feel excited for many reasons, but especially for the long years of anticipation and building,” he said. “You plant something to get fruit and it’s beautiful.”
Members come from “everywhere,” Eldewak said: North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, 90% of whom now live in Jersey City. He is from Egypt and he describes his role as “involving everyone in the management of the mosque”.
There are strict rules to follow during Ramadan – recite the Quran, offer prayers, observe fasting, do charity, practice self-discipline, remain single, show respect, dress appropriately, get along with his friends and encourage unity. During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating food, drinking liquids, smoking cigarettes, and engaging in any sexual activity from dawn until sunset. This includes taking medication even if you swallow a dry pill, without drinking water. You may take a shower during your fasting period as you may feel thirsty, dehydrated, or overheated. However, you cannot swallow water. If someone breaks the Ramadan fast without a valid exemption, they suffer a penalty known in Arabic as kaffarah, or covering, such as consecutive fasting for two months, if one is capable. Menstruation and postpartum bleeding invalidate the fast.
Ramadan is celebrated as the month in which Muhammad received the first revelations of what became the Quran, the holy book of Muslims, from God.
“In the month of Ramadan…was revealed the Quran, guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criteria,” according to the Quran.
The Al Tawheed Islamic Center’s mission, found on its website, is to “foster Islamic values among Muslims by providing genuine religious, educational, and social services for the benefit of its community.”
Eldewak beamed, “We’re preparing for business as usual.”
Reverend Alexander Santora is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, NJ 07030. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @padrehoboken.