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Annual Interfaith luncheon brings community together to spread love

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At the end of every year, faith leaders, local organizations and officials gather together to break bread at the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton and further build relationships with one another.

The Muslim Center of Greater Princeton in West Windsor brought local officials, faith leaders, residents and organizations together in the large multi-purpose room at the mosque to learn more about one another in December before the start of this new year.

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“If we know each other, we love each other. When we don’t know each other there is the fear of the unknown,” said Sajid Syed, chairman of The Muslim Center of Greater Princeton.

“If you do not tell your own story someone else will. We want to be known as a community that spreads love, goodwill and cheer and coexist with our friends and neighbors.”

The annual luncheon, which has been conducted for 15 years, caps the year for the Interfaith Committee at the Muslim Center.

“The whole purpose of this is for us to spread love. At the end of the day, we all have the same struggles,” Syed said. “Once you remove our color differences and looks differences, we have the same problems.”

The center’s luncheon is also the celebration of the Committee’s work and activities through the year.

Many of the partners that they have worked with in the past and new relationships they have forged, in particular with local educators, school boards and school districts attended the luncheon.

“We have not had them [members of the local schools] at any of our Interfaith events and we really wanted to strengthen those connections within the community,” said Naba Sharif, chair of the Interfaith Committee.

She added that they are forging new friendships and celebrating old friendships and relationships.

“That is really the goal,” Sharif said.

Educators, Board of Education members and superintendents from the Princeton School District, Montgomery School District, Cranbury School District, West Windsor School District and Robbinsville School District were all invited to the event.

Additionally, the luncheon highlighted service activities with other Interfaith groups, congregations and service groups.

One of the many service activities is the Hunger Van, which was established in December 2020, serving eight churches in Trenton. Since then, the Muslim Center has served more than 100,000 meals, according to Syed.

“We are heavily involved in service-oriented activities, and we want to partner with organizations that do service,” Sharif said. “What better way to celebrate our commonalities than coming together for events like this, celebrations like this, and commitments to service.”

Deborah Preston, president of Mercer County Community College, local officials including Princeton Mayor Mark Freda, West Windsor Mayor Hermant Marathe, East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov, and Cranbury Township Committeewoman Barbara Rogers, who was serving as mayor at the time of the luncheon, and Committeewoman Eman El-Badawi attended the luncheon.

“I think the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton inviting so many different people of different backgrounds and different beliefs, different cultures is a good sign and a great way to get people together,” Freda said.

“It shows everyone we really are just the same. We may look different and sound different, but ‘So What.’ At the end of the day we are all just people.”

He praised the center for promoting a sense of community.

“The sense of community is a really important thing and the fact they are promoting a sense of community from such a wide area and the activities they have going on in the center are pretty amazing,” Freda said.

El-Badawi noted that the luncheon gathers a lot of leaders in the political, educational and clergy spaces.

“The luncheon is very important to reflect the importance of leadership in cultivating diverse and accepting communities,” she said. “Everyone here has their own model and their own method and share that model with each other today.”

El-Badawi stressed that events such as the luncheon are critical to building community.

“If you cannot sit down and break bread with your brother or sister and have a conversation about how you are different and how you are similar, we cannot progress if we can’t do that,” she said.

The afternoon gathering at the mosque featured table talks with those in attendance with topics including getting outside of their comfort zones, building relationships, creating community activities and events, and sharing stories.

The center capped off the luncheon by honoring the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen [TASK] and their work in the community.

“Today is about celebrating all that we have been given and about how we use what we are given,” said Joyce Campbell, executive director of TASK.

She said it’s important to “recognize the humanity in each person” they have the honor of coming in contact with “no matter where we meet them, no matter how long we spend with them and talk with them.”

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