Muslims, guests breakfast at interfaith iftar dinner in Boonton Town, New Jersey

Boonton Town (UNA-OIC) - A diverse assembly of cultures and faiths blended Memorial Day and Ramadan observances during an interfaith Iftar dinner on Sunday at Jam-e-Masjid Islamic Center, in Boonton Town in New Jersey, USA.

Despite falling in the middle of an extended holiday weekend, the dinner drew a standing-room-only crowd representing several religions.

Just before the fast was broken at sundown, Imam Basel Hamdeh offered a recitation of the Holy Qur'an and prayer, which were then translated to English and explained to the guests by Usma Sohail Khan.

"From these verses, you get the innate feeling of Islam, that your neighbor is key," Khan said. "Friendship and kindness, that is what we strive for, that is what all faiths strive for, and there are many more similarities between our religions and our beliefs than one understands, Daily Record Tabloid Newspaper reported.

So events like these are so meaningful and significant because you focus on the similarities instead of the differences."

Imam Wesley Abu Sumayyah Lebron, co-founder, and president of the Passaic-based nonprofit group 3 Puerto Rican Imams offered perspective on Ramadan and fasting for the uninitiated.

"When we fast, our fast may be a bit different than those of other nations and religions," Lebron said. "Our fast is a fast to refrain completely from food, drink, or any desire whatsoever. We are to restrain our eyes, restrain our ears, restrain our thoughts, restrain our practices."

"Ramadan for us is like a training camp," he summarized. "It is like those individuals when they go to the gym every day. For us, it is a spiritual workout."

Pastor Terry Welsh of Picatinny Arsenal acknowledged there are many Muslims among the more than 1 million American soldiers who have given their lives for their country, dating back to the American Revolution.

He singled out one New Jersey man who paid the ultimate price.

"Cpl. Kareem Khan grew up here in New Jersey," Welsh said. "He was killed by a bomb while clearing a house in Iraq in 2007 and was 20 year-olds.

He was spurred by the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and wanted to show that not all Muslims were fanatics. That many, like him, were willing to lay down their lives for their country, America. He enlisted immediately after graduation."

About 200 people filling the ground level of the mosque once a public school, then a synagogue before the JMIC took occupancy in 1988 broke the fast by eating traditional dates, then moved upstairs for prayer.

Non-Muslims were invited to join or observe the prayers or stay in the dining room, where a buffet dinner of lamb, chicken, salad, rice, and bread was later served.

After-dinner speakers included Morris County Sheriff James Gannon, who grew up in the neighborhood and recalled playing soccer at Boonton High School with Muslim friends he grew up with them.

"This little town has seven flag ranks that went to high school here, admirals, generals, and three Medal of Honor winners," Gannon said. "I've always felt a closeness to the community here. Besides the diverse population we have here today, I think the most important part of this meeting today is inclusion. I think we're really, and really good at it here. I think it's a model for other communities. Because we're all the same, aren't we?"

Ernie Miller and Dennis Williams came from Westside Presbyterian Church in Ridgewood after recently hosting a Muslim group there.

"We have a men's group that meets on a regular basis, and one of the members suggested we meet members of the Muslim faith because we didn't know very much about the faith or the people," Williams said. "So about a month ago, we invited them over for what was supposed to be a one-hour luncheon, a sharing of our faith, basically, and what was going on in the world. And it turned into about three hours. And in that time, friendships started. Out of those friendships, we were invited tonight to share this experience."

The annual event was organized by the interfaith group Different Faiths One Family and the JMIC, along with three other Morris County mosques: The American Muslim Association in Boonton, the Islamic Society in Budd Lake and the Islamic Center of Morris County in Rockaway.

The ICMC will host a similar interfaith dinner on Wednesday.

The audience also included several local government leaders, including Gannon, Freeholder Deborah Smith, Boonton Alderman Cyril Wekilsky and Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano.

Also attending and making public remarks were Tamara Harris and Mikie Sherrill, both running for Congress in next month's District 11 Democratic primary.

Source: International Islamic News Agency