UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Islamic Center of Union County hosted its first Meet and Greet on May 1. The event, “A Bridge to Meet and Greet your Muslim Neighbors,” drew about 200 people from the community. Union Mayor Manuel Figueiredo, along with Committee members Joseph Florio and Michele Delisfort, Sheriff Joseph Cryan, and Union County Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh, President of the ICUC Wail Rasheed, and other center board members greeted visitors as they led a tour of the center, spoke about Islamic culture and traditions, and served traditional foods. In addition, community leaders from Union EMS, fire and police departments, and the board of education were recognized.
Figueirido said that the event is an exciting step toward building unity and understanding in communities throughout the county. “This event is the beginning of creating bridges with other members of our diverse community,” said Figueiredo. “ICUC is looking to continue their outreach into the community and having their doors open to anyone wishing to understand their faith.”
Rasheed said that the event was about building connections between the Muslim community and its neighbors. “The Muslim community is not new to Union,” said Rasheed, who has been a Union resident for 30 years. “It’s a big job to educate people — to teach them and tell who we are. We are no different than other religions. I like to focus on how similar we are, not our differences. How Muslims pray and what Muslims do is no different than what Christians and Jews do. We all believe in the same God. We must respect them, love them. We need to say this more often,” he said.
Rasheed said that he is concerned about the rhetoric he has heard about Muslims, both in the media and from some of the presidential candidates. “With what people hear during the presidential campaign and in the media, people want to know if this portrayal is true,” said Rasheed, referencing the negative stories he often hears about Muslims in the news. “Why is the media saying negative things about Muslims? Before you judge Muslims, get to know them. Let them come inside and see that we’re no different than a temple or church.”
Union County freeholder Mohamed Jalloh said that the center, which moved from Newark to Union in 2005, has wanted to host an event like this for a long time. “This has been in the making for five years,” said Jalloh. “They’ve always wanted to do this event. It was a great turnout. Their goal is to help rid certain stigmas against Islam and the Muslim community,” he said.
Jalloh said that welcoming neighbors into the center is a step in the right direction. “I’ve always thought that whenever a community has an event like this, it makes it a safer community,” said Jalloh. “It promotes safety and it promotes community. It’s important to know our neighbors. It’s a religious and cultural experience that people have never been exposed to before, and so many people had such good time. It puts a human face on something people have just seen on TV. When you don’t humanize it, it’s easy to discriminate.”
Jalloh maintains that events like this are a vital part of bringing diverse communities together. “An event like this is especially important because on a national level, the rhetoric is dangerous and invites hatred and violence against a group of people,” said Jalloh. “You combat hatred with love, and you do that through personal relationships. An event like this encourages personal relationships with people who are different. It’s the first step in combatting hatred and intolerance.”
Rasheed believes that bringing diverse people together on a more personal is essential to building tolerance. “I think we should all open our doors to our neighbors,” said Rasheed. “We are a melting pot and we should know about each other. We should make a stronger bridge to work together.”
For more information on the Islamic Center of Union County visit www.icucnj.com.