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Valley Stream, Elmont Islamic communities celebrate Eid al-Fitr

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Thousands of Valley Stream and Elmont residents gathered at Masjid Hamza on June 4 to celebrate the end of Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

Aziz Khan, a member of the congregation for 11 years, ex-plained that Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the month, is seen as a blessing to those who have fasted, allowing them to eat and enjoy festivities along with family members and neighbors.

“Eid is a time to come together, and this community is known for being supportive,” said Khan, who grew up in Brooklyn. “They help local families and work with charities. I’m proud to be a member of this community.”

As Khan and other Masjid Hamza members crowded Stuart Avenue, Mohammed Khan, 29, recalled the days when the mosque was little more than a small house and trailer. In the 1970s and ’80s, local Muslims gathered in basements or rented small storefronts to pray and take part in religious services. In 1990, they pooled their resources to found the congregation.

Mohammed, whose family joined Masjid Hamza in 2000, watched it grow to a multi-floor sanctuary, including a community center, an elementary school and a basketball court in the back. During Eid in the early 2000s, Khan said, the mosque needed only one morning prayer to accommodate its congregants.

As more residents joined the congregation, the mosque needed to hold additional Eid prayer services. This year it held four, and residents spent hours waiting in line for their chance to pray.

“Most of the other mosques have, at most, three prayers, but we might have to go up to five next year if we keep growing like this,” Mohammed said.

And the mosque is growing, dramatically.

Malik Nadeem Abid — a member of the congregation and the secretary general and ambassador to the United Nations’ International Human Rights Commission — said that the mosque had acquired the Stuart Avenue property as well as the two houses behind the current building. The spaces, he said, would allow for additional parking and construction of a new school.

Abid added that the mosque’s growth would allow it to undertake interfaith services and charity work with the Valley Stream community. He said that in the wake of rising Islamophobia, people need to work to help build bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim residents.

“We want our neighbors to know that our doors are always open, and we have volunteers willing to help anyone,” Abid said. “We are the largest congregation in Nassau County, with about 10,000 to 15,000 members, and we are here to build relationships.”

Abid said he also had high hopes for the founding of the Elmont Islamic Center, near Hempstead Turnpike. Rafiqul Ipatwaiy, a center member, said that Muslims in the northern part of Elmont, Franklin Square and South Floral Park lack a proper mosque to pray in. He and his fellow members have spent the past six years renting a room near the corner of Hempstead Turnpike and Butler Boulevard, but Ipatwaiy explained that they are unable to use that space on Fridays or for large community celebrations.

“We want a place where we can pray as well as a place where we can hold events and programs for the kids,” he said.

To meet that need, the congregation has spent the past year raising funds to purchase a building on Crest Avenue to convert to a mosque. While members have raised more than $200,000 from donors, the Islamic Center needs another $310,000 by June 16 to purchase the building. Abdullah Shah, another congregant, said the congregation has prayed for help, and members handed out fliers during the Valley Stream Eid celebration to attract donors to help their cause.

“We’re growing every day,” Shah said. “We’ve got about 50 to 60 members now, and we need a permanent place of worship.”