Ramadan in Central Jersey
Ramadan started in US on 19th of June this time around. The start of Ramadan – which is rather notorious for its variance as it depends on moon sightings – this time surprisingly was on the same day for entire North America and most other countries across the globe. This year’s Ramadan fasting falls during the summer months where the fasting starts at around 3.30 AM and ends at about 8.30 PM. That’s a whopping 17 hours without a drop of water or food. Despite this the Muslim community here in Central Jersey welcomes Ramadan with much enthusiasm and excitement.
One particular aspect of Ramadan is that it transforms the quiet and often lazy late evenings into lively ones full of energy and life. This is because of late night prayers called Taraweeh which are performed after the last prayer of the day, called Isha. Many attend these prayers with their entire family which fills the mosques with much activity. You can see aged grandparents, infants, active toddlers and young teens along with adults. While most return from the mosques after a certain number of sessions, the others continue with it. You can see the teens playing basketball or other games in the well-lit game areas and toddlers and other youth socializing and playing around in the open but secure outdoor areas. I have been to three mosques across Central Jersey and this has been a common sight. The night really comes alive during Ramadan.
Ramadan is also the month when charity works conducted by the Muslim community reaches a peak. Fund raising for charity activities like soup kitchens, clothing distribution and homeless shelters etc. gains momentum during this time. Mosque managements also often use this opportunity to call for donations for building maintenance and expansion projects.
All mosques hold iftar (literally, “breakfast”) ceremonies to break the day’s fast at sunset. Typical breaking of fast involves dates and sweetened lemon juice. It’s quite usual to find a large crowd for the iftars held at the mosques.
Another common event that happens during Ramadan is the iftars hosted by individual families or organizations. It also very routine to find non-Muslim local families attend these events. It’s become more and more common to find interfaith Iftar events where people from different religious backgrounds get together and break the fast together. The local mosque near where I live is hosting an interfaith iftar on the 1st of July. A community organization called American Muslims for Democracy (AMD) hosted an interfaith iftar on the 19th of June in Woodbridge, NJ. The Turkish Cultural Center of Central Jersey routinely hosts community iftars where people from local non-Muslim communities are invited to participate. Such events promote understanding and bonding between people from different cultural, ethnic, religious, racial backgrounds. It is also not very unusual to find local politicians and business heads participating in such events.
Paterson in northern Jersey has a huge population with Arab Muslim background. The local markets really come to life during Ramadan and some of the shops run 24X7 during this time. Paterson is also the place where you can find a fusion of different cultures. South and South East Asian, Arab, Eastern European and Chinese influence is reflected even in wares put on display along storefronts.
Towards the end of Ramadan, the focus shifts to preparation for Eid and that’s when specialized custom markets and bazaars come up in mosques and places where a significant Muslim population resides. Demand for traditional clothing shoots up during those days and at Eid the mosques usually present a kaleidoscope of cultural attire as most of the Muslim population are from immigrant communities.
(The writer is an IT professional based in New Jersey, USA)