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NJ Muslims prepare for Eid feeling 'grief, anger and gratitude'

Ramadan has felt unique because of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

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Ayah (left) and Eman Ibrahim (right) sell candles to raise funds for Gaza at an iftar at Rutgers University Newark. Photo by Sofia Ahmed

This Ramadan has felt unique for many Muslims because of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and they are expressing a mix of emotions as Eid celebrations approach.

At iftar gatherings to open the fast during this month, Eman Ibrahim and her sister Ayah have been selling candles whose scents are inspired by 22 Palestinian towns as a fundraiser for Gazans. 

The Ibrahim sisters are from Paterson, dubbed by locals as Little Palestine. They say the crisis in Gaza has made this Ramadan feel different, marked by a combination of “grief and gratitude.” But they’ve also used Ramadan as a time for advocacy. 

Although the women’s parents are from Palestine, they’ve never never been able to visit there themselves. But they say they created the candle scents based on a collective memory of their homeland. 

They created their company, Have Faith Candles, as a way for people to boycott larger candle companies that support Israel. This Ramadan, they’ve been selling their candles at Muslim Student Association events across New Jersey and donating 20% of the proceeds to relief efforts in Gaza. 

Ramadan has felt different for others, too. Kaiser Aslam, Rutgers University’s Muslim chaplain, has noticed an increase in attendance at iftars on the New Brunswick campus. In past years, 70 to 80 would come, but this year Aslam has seen 200 to 500. 

Aslam speculates that the increased attendance could be due to people seeking “healing and solace” after witnessing the atrocities in Gaza. 

“I’m noticing this over and over again, even in my office conversations, where people didn’t consider that they needed to fast or that they needed to participate in the community,” Aslam said. “They’re having to do so, because it’s their way of healing.”

Halimeh Aqrabawi, a counselor at an Islamic school in northern New Jersey, said she also noticed community members being more engaged during the holy month. 

“The people in Gaza are essentially forced to fast, because they’re deprived from food and water,” Aqrabawi said. “Because of everything happening there, I think everybody was looking forward to Ramadan. To not only fast in solidarity with them, but also to improve ourselves because we were inspired by their faith.” 

Increased activism and fundraising

Although there’s a heightened degree of somberness during Ramadan this year, there are also more charity events and fundraisers for Gaza, Aslam said. He said that, in addition to students being more spiritually active during Ramadan, they’re also more politically active. 

Rutgers New Brunswick students are currently voting on a referendum that would make the school divest from the state of Israel and break its partnership with Tel Aviv University. 

“I saw maybe 500 or so students petitioning and tabling on random streets on campus to tell anyone that they can to vote yes on the divestment,” he said.”I’ve never seen that many students participate.”

The Ibrahim sisters said that although their community in Paterson is feeling anger, helplessness and grief, they are also seeing “a lot more solidarity across Muslim cultures and sects.”

‘Not feeling much joy’

Eman Ibrahim said that her candle business has been a healing way for her to channel her grief into action by raising relief funds for Gaza. But she said she’s “not feeling much joy in Ramadan activities,” like shopping for Eid, which will be on Wednesday. 

Instead, Ayah Ibrahim said they feel guilty when they open their fast, knowing people in Gaza are facing one of the largest man-made famines in at least the last two decades

As Eid approaches, Gaza continues to be “on people’s hearts,” Aslam said. “That’s been the theme of Ramadan. Not only do we do worship, but we also use that worship to provide aid and relief, whether that be in the way of using our voices, or actually using our funds and privileges.”

Sofia Ahmed is a reporting fellow for Central Desi.

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