AMERICA: Muslims, officials gather in Clifton for first Ramadan lantern lighting

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SHAFAQNA – More than 100 people gathered outside Clifton City Hall on Saturday evening to light an 11-foot lantern to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

For Muslims, the first Ramadan lighting in the city was a sign of acceptance and recognition of their growing presence in the city, at a time when many believe that anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise in the U.S. The event was also a way to share and celebrate their faith with the community, said organizers.

“It’s a very celebratory moment  for us as Muslims,” said Imam Osamah Salhia, of the Islamic Center of Passaic County. “We see it as a great sign in a time of division and polarity. It’s great to see members of our city to come together to express unity. I thank God for that.”

The crowd cheered when the lantern was lit, then rushed to get home for the iftar, or the evening meal shared with family to break the daily fast during Ramadan. During the holy month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from food and water. They believe fasting brings empathy with the poor and closeness with God.

Clifton Mayor James Anzaldi likened the lantern lighting to public celebrations of other faiths, like the lighting of the Christmas tree or menorah for Hanukkah. The city is obligated to treat the religions equally, but beyond that, it was doing what it should, he said.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Anzaldi. “No matter what anybody says inside and outside of our community, it’s the right thing to do to celebrate everybody.”

Council members Raymond Grabowski and Lauren Murphy also attended the lighting, along with county Freeholders Bruce James, Assad Akhter and Theodore “TJ” Best.

Fahim Abedrabbo, a school board member and Clifton’s first Muslim elected official, said the event was a sign of Clifton’s history as a diverse and welcoming community.

“Clifton has always been open-minded in accepting various religious and multicultural communities,” said Abedrabbo, an organizer of the event.

Others were thrilled to take their children to see the 11-foot lantern, topped with a crescent moon and star, on the City Hall lawn. Nina Odatalla said the lantern with the words Ramadan Mubarak — a greeting that means ‘have a blessed Ramadan’ — made people feel happy and like they belong.

“We are part of the landscape of America. It’s just like the American flag and the Christmas tree and the menorah. Those are symbols of major world religions and this is a symbol for us,” said Odatalla, who is an assistant principal in Teaneck.

Others, like Clifton resident Abdul Hamdan, a lawyer and real estate developer, posed to take pictures of his children in front of the lantern.

He said he hoped the event was a sign of better community understanding and integration for his children’s future. He hoped they would grow to see the lantern lighting embraced “as a normal thing” and “not something dramatic.”

At the close of the ceremony, Imam Mohammad Qatanani called for unity and for Muslims to extend a hand to their neighbors. “Please celebrate the diversity, love your neighbor, help your neighbor to know you and to build a bridge among each other,” he said.

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