EAST BRUNSWICK–With the worldwide pandemic slowly coming into the rearview mirror, East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen said the world has had a chance to understand the meaning and the purpose for humility and sharing, whether it’s food insecurity, social injustice, income inequality, or homelessness, that cannot be done alone.
“Together, we have an enormous capacity for compassion. This, my friends, is the message of Ramadan,” Cohen said.
With green lights, a tree and many excited children, the East Brunswick Human Relations Council (EBHRC) held its first Ramadan tree lighting ceremony on May 2.
“Ramadan, as most of you know, is the month which celebrates the revelation of the Quran and is associated with the act of fasting. This one-month ritual is a time for self-reflection, self-improvement, empathy, sacrifice, and understanding and recognition of those who have less than a heightened call for charity,” Cohen said.
Cohen said he hopes this will become an annual Ramadan lighting ceremony in the township and that it is also the first time such a ceremony was held in Middlesex County.
More than 50 residents attended the council’s first tree lighting ceremony, along with County Clerk Nancy Pinkin, Assemblyman Sterley Stanley, Council President Sharon Sullivan and Councilman Michael Spadafino on at the municipal pond, located at 1 Jean Walling Civic Center.
Speakers for the event included Chair of EBHRC Erum Shakir, Cohen, Islamic Center of East Brunswick and East Brunswick Interfaith Clergy representative Mohmammad Kamran Hashmi and Rutgers University Muslim Chaplain Kaiser Aslam.
Cohen said that some may ask why here, why this location and why now?
“The answer I found actually comes from a 29-year-old world-renowned neuroscientist, humanitarian poet and philosopher by the name of Abhijit Naskar. In his sonnet, he writes ‘Christmas isn’t about the decorations, it’s about compassion. Hanukkah isn’t about the sufganiyot, which is a jelly doughnut, it’s about amalgamation,'” Cohen said. “‘Ramadan isn’t about the feast, it’s about affection. Diwali isn’t about the lights, it’s about ascension. Our world is filled with festivals, but what do they really mean? Celebrating them with cultural exclusivity makes us not human, but a savage fiend; every festival belongs to all humanity for happiness has no religious identity.’
“So may we all learn from the sacrifice of Ramadan and resolve to live our lives with a greater sense of purpose. Empathy and charity starts with one person, and it can have such a profound multiplier effect. … So may those celebrating have an easy and meaningful fast,” Cohen said.
Shakir thanked everyone who attended the event.
“I’m really truly honored that we are able to celebrate Ramadan in America for the first time ever. This is not only near and dear to my heart, but I’m sure of all the Muslims that are present here, so thank you Mayor Brad Cohen for making it happen,” Shakir said. “Ramadan is a special month for [more than] 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, 3.45 million Muslims in the United States, thousands here in New Jersey, and hundreds right here in East Brunswick.”
Hashmi said since Ramadan started in mid-April, everyone has been fasting for 20 days and everyone’s energy was starting to run out.
“We have been praying extensively at night so we are a little bit sleep deprived. … So please look around, there are a lot of Muslims here and they’re all your neighbors and friends. First and foremost thank you for doing this and thank you for making it happen,” Hashmi said.
Rutgers University Muslim Chaplain Kaiser Aslam said Ramadan is a special time of the year for Muslims to reflect.
“It’s a lunar month in which most of us recognize the time that Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, and I’m sure every Muslim here has heard the question, even from water? … Yes, even from water, but there’s more to Ramadan than just this idea of feeling hunger and thirst and actually what I wanted to impart today is just three principles of Ramadan,” Aslam said.
The first principle of Ramadan, Aslam said, is that Ramadan represents humanity.
“How does it represent humanity? We are commanded to fast, abstaining from food and water, the very basic things we need to survive we’re willing to give up because we’re trying to achieve a higher purpose,” Aslam said. “We oftentimes start forgetting that we eat the same thing every morning, we eat the same thing for lunch … we eat with the same people every evening … and we start forgetting what makes us human. What makes us human is actually the ability of having needs, like hunger and needs like thirst.”
One of the goals of Ramadan that the Prophet Muhammad teaches, Aslam said, is that when someone fasts, he/she actually feels the situation and develops empathy for those who have involuntary fasted.
“We recognize as we were going through the day that we were feeling hungry and there are those that experience hunger not because they choose to become spiritually uplifted, but because their conditions take them to the point of experiencing hunger involuntarily,” Aslam said.
The second principle of Ramadan, Aslam said, involves guidance because during Ramadan Muslims place all of life’s distractions aside and put God first.
“Ramadan actually is a moment … where our sleep schedules become disrupted [and] our eating schedules become a little bit disruptive. Why? Because we put our relationship with God … that becomes the primary point of our existence and all of our distractions become secondary,” Aslam said. “We avoid our distractions from becoming barriers to our best selves. We are trying to make sure that our distractions don’t distract us from God. So the second purpose or principle of Ramadan is guidance.”
The third principle of Ramadan, Aslam said, involves forgiveness and mercy.
“If that’s not something for a community to celebrate, I don’t know what is. The idea that we want the mercy of God, why wouldn’t that begin with us being merciful to those around [and] forgiving to those around us?” Aslam said. “So those are the three principles that Muslims really celebrating: humanity, guidance and mercy. I hope that this is going to be an initiation for many years to come of a night that we celebrate those three things: humanity, guidance and mercy.”
Contact Vashti Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.