Reporting with Hills Pride

The Trailblazer

Reporting with Hills Pride

The Trailblazer

Reporting with Hills Pride

The Trailblazer

Community celebrates New Jersey Muslim Heritage Month, local cultural expo

On Apr. 29, 2023, Bill SJR105 was signed by Governor Phil Murphy during the Eid celebration at Drumthwacket he and his wife attended. This bill designates the month of January of each year henceforth as “Muslim Heritage Month” in New Jersey.
Attendees+enjoying+food+from+different+cultures+at+the+event%E2%80%99s+food+court.
Paige Geanopulos
Attendees enjoying food from different cultures at the event’s food court.

On Apr. 29, 2023, Bill SJR105 was signed by Governor Phil Murphy during the Eid celebration at Drumthwacket he and his wife attended. This bill designates the month of  January of each year henceforth as “Muslim Heritage Month” in New Jersey.

New Jersey is the fourth state in the country to recognize the American Muslim heritage and its legacy in a celebrated month. Reflecting on its importance, Assemblywoman McKnight stated that “by designating January as Muslim Heritage Month, we are carving out time to recognize the positive impact Muslims continue to have on our state and nation.” 

The Pascack Hills History Club created a library and hallway display that featured Muslim authors and related books to recognize Muslim Heritage Month.

The display includes an image of Governor Phil Murphy signing Bill SJR105 alongside  members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in the New Jersey chapter.

“I am proud to designate January of each year as Muslim Heritage Month as it will shine a light on the rich histories, cultures, and shared principles of Muslim Americans. New Jersey takes great pride in its diversity and we will continue to recognize and celebrate the positive impact Muslims have made and continue to make, to the advancement of this state,” he said.

In addition to the books, images, and decorations, fliers line the display case for a cultural expo in Teaneck, N.J. on Sunday, Jan. 7th. 

The Muslim Heritage Month Committee of New Jersey held this event to celebrate Muslim culture for everyone to enjoy – free of charge with all proceeds from the different events going to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. 

Before the event, Montvale resident Zaheera Khan and two anonymous Woodcliff Lake residents met with the Trailblazer to discuss the event and Muslim Heritage Month.

An anonymous Woodcliff Lake resident addressed both the event and what can be done in addition to celebrating Muslim culture.

“I think the schools are the biggest part because yes, this event is happening, but it is in Teaneck, so we don’t know how many people from our neighborhood will necessarily go… So, that’s why we’re now working with Teaching While Muslim, which is a group of American Muslim educators who have put together material to be used in the classroom. And I think that’s the most important thing. Education is key. We need to kind of start with the youth to undo their learning of the misconceptions of Muslims and Islam and to better understand who we really bring to the table,” they said. 

In reference to the BOE meeting on Dec. 18, 2023 and local education as a whole, the resident expanded on upcoming plans.

“I want everyone to understand that it is a cultural experience. The only way that you can experience culture is to actually be part of it. You can’t really experience culture from a book. You can’t experience culture from YouTube

— Montvale resident Zaheera Khan

“We’re going to be [educating] on a school level, similar to what we’ve done in Hispanic Heritage Month and Black History Month. We’ve actually already talked to Superintendent Bilotti, who is very gracious and immediately was open to that. And, we are going to have lunch with a Muslim organization with her, the Board of Ed., and ideally the surrounding neighborhoods’ principals and superintendents,” they said. 

Another anonymous Woodcliff Lake resident emphasized the current social climate’s contribution to the necessity of celebrating Muslim heritage in a time of rising islamophobia and assumptions about the Muslim community.

“There is a surge of islamophobia due to distorted narratives and that in turn is manifesting into hate crimes. So, in light of all these challenges, we want to seize this opportunity that the Muslim Heritage Month is offering to illuminate the contributions of Muslims, not just to the global community, but specifically to the United States… By doing so, we aspire to assist our fellow Americans in reshaping the prevailing narrative about Muslims,” they said.   

Montvale resident Zaheera Khan commented on the event along with insights on cultural immersion and appreciation.

“I want everyone to understand that it is a cultural experience,” she said, “The only way that you can experience culture is to actually be part of it. You can’t really experience culture from a book. You can’t experience culture from YouTube…Can you really feel what they feel? No. So, this is an experience that you get to feel…And, ask many questions. There are no silly questions and we want a healthy dialogue. We want people to talk, we want people to talk so we can give them our side, or our discussion, and our point of view.”

teanecknj.gov
A poster promoting the cultural expo.

The event itself was held at the Teaneck Marriott at Glenpointe from 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm, and attendees consistently filled the space throughout the day. The volunteers filled each room with culture – from food to jewelry, to speakers, and more. Meanwhile, the visitors were diverse, not all being Muslim themselves, but rather there to learn and be immersed in Muslim culture.

At the event, an event organizer gave The Trailblazer a tour of each area: the food court of diverse foods from different countries, the bazaar with numerous vendors, the art exhibition representing Islamic art form, historical exhibits, informational posters throughout the areas, and the stage where different acts would take place throughout the day. 

The Trailblazer was also introduced to numerous organizers and volunteers throughout the day. Some of the many contributors include Freelance Artist Saima Salah, An Nahl Shop, Alkas Stores, Realtor Saba Khan, and plenty more representing their community. 

With the help of the organizers, volunteers, and promoters, the cultural expo was successful, eye-opening, and unifying.

“We did this for our community and culture. Look around, everyone is here celebrating and learning, which is all we want: awareness and recognition…Cultures and religions are so intertwined, we must also join together by promoting peace and understanding,” said an anonymous event organizer.

“Muslims are all over the world. They are on numerous continents and should be recognized…We hold this event to celebrate the month but also celebrate the people…It may not seem so, but New Jersey is full of Muslims from many different backgrounds,” said another organizer. 

According to the Association of Religious Data Archives, the New Jersey State Membership Report in 2020 had a Muslim Estimate of 321,652 adherents to Islam, meaning that Muslims account for three percent of the New Jersey population. Senator Brian P. Stack recognized the significant prevalence of Muslim residents when highlighting the importance of Muslim Heritage Month.

“New Jersey has the highest percentage of Muslim residents in the nation…This designation will allow the State and its residents to respectfully acknowledge and promote awareness while appreciating and recognizing the many contributions of the State’s Muslim community,” he said. 

For more Muslim Heritage Events, the MHM coalition has events across New Jersey. On their site, they provide curriculum, resources, libraries, and more experiences – from storytimes to festivals – for anyone interested.

Take a look at this gallery for photos from the cultural expo.

Sources: 

https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562023/approved/20230429a.shtml 

https://pub.njleg.gov/Bills/2022/AJR/194_I1.HTM#:~:text=The%20month%20of%20January%20of%20each%20year%20is%20designated%20as,the%20State%20of%20New%20Jersey

https://www.nj.com/politics/2023/05/in-historic-moment-nj-just-established-a-muslim-heritage-month.html 

https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bill-search/2022/SJR105 

https://www.thearda.com/us-religion/census/congregational-membership?y=2020&y2=0&t=1&c=34

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About the Contributor
Paige Geanopulos, School News Editor
Hills junior Paige Geanopulos is looking forward to being a part of the Trailblazer for another year. She joined the publication her freshman year as a staff writer and edited for the In-Depth section her sophomore year. This year, Geanopolus is excited to cover breaking news stories within the Hills community. Fun fact: Geanopulos loves the outdoors and hikes regularly.

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