"Assalaamu Alaikum" is a NJ-Wide Muslim publication
More than 8000 copies are printed
and distributed every Ramadan.
(An interview with Imam Hammad Ahmad As Chebli, Imam of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey [ISCJ]. This interview is conducted by Br. Zia ul Haq)
Imam Chebli: I seek refuge of Allah from the Satan. Bismillah Hir Rahman ir Raheem. Alhamdulillah e Rabbil Aalameen Was Salaat o Was Salaamo ala ashraf ul mursaleen Syedina Muhammad wa ala aalihi wa ashabih wa man sara ila hadyehi ila youm iddin. First of all on the behalf of the ISCJ, I like to welcome you and say to you "Ahlan wa sahlan."
Br. Zia: Can you give us the estimated number of Muslims in NJ?
Imam: Recently, I attended a reception where the governor of New Jersey, Ms. Christie Whitman, was also present. When she came to the podium, she said that the state is proud to have more than 300,000 Muslim families in New Jersey. She said Muslims are very productive people working in specialized areas as Doctors, Engineers, Teachers, Computer professionals, etc. Alhamdulillah, Muslims have come a long way since 1983 when I first came here. Masha Allah, today we find Muslims living in each and every city of NJ. We find numerous Mosques, halal meat stores, clothing and food stores, and other businesses through out NJ. I believe the Islamic Center of Jersey City is one of the oldest Islamic institutions of Jersey City. The number of Muslims is increasing not only by marriage but also through the process of Dawah, and Alhamdulillah people are accepting Islam as the religion that solves the problems of the West.
Br. Zia: With growing numbers of Muslims, there are needs for prayer, education, food, dawah, etc. What activities are the Masjid involved in, and how are they helpful for the Muslims?
Imam: First of all, as Muslims, we have to live our lives according to a code. By this I mean the way of Allah, the way of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This way is to live between the two limits of Halal (lawful) and Haram (unlawful). To make it easy for our readers, we call them dos and dont. We should not imitate the West. Rather, we have to educate them that as Muslims, we have to live according to the teachings of Islam if we want to protect our families our children, our wives, our brothers and sisters in Islam from the hellfire, and ourselves on the day of judgement. Take our daily prayers, Salaat, as example. We need to let non-Muslims know that we pray five times daily at specific times. West is not familiar with this. They traditionally pray on Sunday or Saturday. We need to tell them that our whole day is scheduled around these prayers. They need to know that these prayers do not hinder our performance, rather they increase our productivity. They renew our Iman, faith and the relationship with our Lord.
We also need to educate the non-Muslims that when we take extended lunch on Fridays, it is for Friday prayers, not for a pleasure trip. During this congregation, we share good and bad news with community. Also, Muslims living in the West have to start visiting public schools, universities, colleges, because we have Muslim students in these places. Maybe they are shy and nobody encourages them to tell their classmates they are Muslim, they have to pray, they are allowed to eat only certain types of food, they are not allowed to have pork, beer, alcohol or cigarettes. We have to bring this information to the educational institutions. We have to arrange meetings with them to share these guidelines with them. If we keep silent, they will just judge us by our appearance from outside with respect to clothes, beards etc. I hope to Allah that as a result of this communication, non-Muslims will be drawn towards Islam, and it will help the Muslim students and workers to follow their religion.
The activities that we have in this Masjid are similar to the majority of the other Islamic centers of NJ. This is not a place where we just come to pray and leave; it is really the center of majority of our activities. Let me mention a few activities that we have in the mosque besides the five times and Friday prayers.
We have four schools running on the Masjid premises. The Noor ul Iman School is the full time daily educational institution with more 250 children attending. The school is active Alhamdulillah Monday through Friday. Students pray with us daily, and learn the entire curriculum prescribed by South Brunswick Township. They are also taught how to read the Quran, and learn to speak Arabic, Urdu or another language. Our Weekend school is conducted on two days, since the building cannot accommodate the 500 students registered for classes, so they come in two shifts. This year, we also opened an evening session for the community. We also have seminars for adults every Saturday and Sunday. They come together and listen to the speeches, ask questions and discuss their needs with the Imam. We have many scholars, respected teachers, and brothers and sisters who are busy in educating our community through these programs.
One of the other activities of this mosque is a free health clinic. I wish and pray to Allah to help all the Muslim doctors to come together in their communities, and go to their townships to register and open non-profit medical clinics. There are many Muslims who do not have medical insurance. These clinics can ease their medical difficulties, and take care of the needs of the Ummah. This are some of the activities in the ISCJ. I am sure that many Masajid have many more activities. I believe that competition between this Masjid and others to have extra functions and activities is good.
Br. Zia: What activities do we have for Dawah and representing Islam for Muslims and non-Muslims?
Imam: From my humble experience, I dont think Islam belongs only for born-Muslims. We have among us the indigenous Muslims. We need to work together to spread the word of Islam. We have to share everything regardless of our color, background, gender and wealth. We have to perform Dawah among people to help them in remembering the name of Allah. We need to realize the rights of our neighbors, who work and live close to us. We have to give them the Dawah. Here in this Masjid, often on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays, we do the prayer with some non-Muslims present. These include Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus or Atheists. They come and observe the Friday or noon prayers following the guidelines of the Masjid. We sit down and tell them about Islam. Not only this, our Masjid is on the reference list of many schools, colleges, institutions, universities like Princeton, Rutgers, Ryder college, community colleges and Bible college in Philadelphia. Time to time, they invite us to visit them and teach them about Islam. Not only this, recently in the beginning of November more than 24 teachers of South Brunswick High school located near the Masjid, were invited. They are teaching Social Studies, history, and subjects that affect children if wrong information is given. The teachers like to balance what is written and what they learn about us, and what we inform them. We invite them to our Friday prayers, to observe it, have lunch with us and answer questions.
By the grace of Allah (SWT), I your brother Hammad Ahmad Chebli as Imam have been on the air for more than five years from Trenton. This is not a commercial. The station is WING, 1300 AM. The program "Reading from the Quran" is broadcast on every Saturday for 1/2 hour from 7: 05 AM to 7: 30 AM. We read from the Quran just to give the Dawah to the audience. Finally, we are not going to forget our inmates from prisons. They call us, and we send them Quran Kareem and brochures. We are very proud Alhamdulillah that in every facility in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, the few states near us, we personally know many imams. Alhamdulillah, Muslims are doing lots of Dawah in prisons. The Governor connected these Dawah efforts with the reduction in prison violence.
These are some of the activities that we are performing in the field of Dawah. Other organizations and centers like ISNA, ICNA, all Islamic organizations also do these. We have publications like The Message, Minaret, Horizon, Assalaamu Alaikum, Al Huda, the Communicator (Noor-ul-Islams publication) and others who are also doing effective dawah.
Br. Zia: As Muslims we are part of the Ummah. When tragedy befalls the Ummah, what actions do we take to assist the Ummah and be with them?
Imam: We have to thank Allah (SWT) for the modern technology. We get news about all incidents happening in any corner of the world. From my humble experience, none of the incidents were taking place in any part of the world were without our effort to reduce the damage done by the natural calamities by the order of Allah. Be it the flood in Bangladesh, India, or water damage to the land in Pakistan, or two earthquakes in Turkey, we try to help. Two incidents are worth mentioning in this respect. For the families arriving from Kosova, we were among the first people to arrive in Fort Dix to assist them while they waited for the organizations to release them. We provided accommodation to a few families. The second incident is Egypt Air flight 990 that left from New York for Cairo but by Allahs Will never made it to its destination. I with some other Imams drove to Newport, Rhode Island to share the pain and sorrow of the families of the victims. We spend time with the families and stayed till they went back to Egypt. We also receive calls from individuals and families when they have husband-wife or children related problems. We respond immediately. Alhamdulillah not only this Masjid but MCMC in Piscataway, Masjid as Saffat in Trenton, and the other Masajid of NJ cooperate. We work together & solve the crises like one body.
Br. Zia: Please give our readers advice for the month of Ramadan.
Imam: Jazak Allah, thank you for to reminding the readers of "Assalaamu Alaikum" and myself that Ramadan for the year 1420 AH and 1999 AD is here. Fasting is among the five pillars of Islam. It was also mandatory upon previous nations before us. Fasting results in the development of Taqwa, fear of Allah.
Yes, Ramadan brings lots of blessings. It brings the listening to the recitation of the Holy Quran, increased prayers during the night and the happiness after the month. We celebrate many Islamic occasions during Ramadan. The battle of Badr and Fath-e-Makkah happened during Ramadan. We also have the blessed night equal or more than thousand months during Ramadan.
Unfortunately not all Muslims receive these blessing for one reason or the other. One of the reasons is because some of us ignore this month. As we know, Allah ordered us to fast during the day, but some Muslims, maybe they do not know this order, eat, drink and smoke during the day. I advise myself and my Muslim brothers and sisters: Please, dont let the coming month of Ramadan pass by without reaping its benefits. If you are living, resident, and not travelling then fast during the day and pray during the night. Visit the mosque. Be a good friend to the Quran Kareem. Be nice to your neighbors and family, and bring the happiness to your house and family. If your parents are living then please try to be very kind to them. Dont just send them dollars but also send them the salaam as the name of our publication. Call them! Write to them to say Dad, Mom, Father, Mother, or relative dont let the month of Ramadan be over unless you gain the blessings of Allah. I am reminded of one thing: The prophet Muhammad was climbing the Mimber (altar for issuing the Friday prayer) and said you are a loser if you do not get the forgiveness from Allah in the month of Ramadan. My advice to my brothers and sisters and myself is that please dont abuse the month of Ramadan but use it.
Br. Zia: Would you like to give a message to our readers?
Imam: My message to myself and to my brothers and sisters is to live their lives as a Muslim and not to give only speeches on Islam. Allah is warning us in the beginning of Surah As-Saff, "O you believe! Why you are saying one thing and doing something else". I mean, if a person says "La illaha ill Allah Muhammad ar Rasul Allah", "I bear witness there is no god except Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah" then he has to live by it. We have to show ourselves, and to our neighbors, colleagues, and everybody else that we are Muslims by action. We are not just Muslim by birth, or by nationality, nor by dress or appearance, but by good deeds. That is my advise to myself and all my Muslim brothers and sisters. May Allah reward you, and all the brothers and sisters taking care of Dawah in New Jersey by publishing this magazine. As Salaam which means peace, and I come to the conclusion to say "Assalaamu Alaikum wa Rahmatullahe wa barakatohu" meaning peace and blessings of Allah be upon you all.
Br. Zia: Jazak Allah Khayr for taking the time and sharing your valuable thoughts with us.
The Following Statement was adopted by the Standing Conference of Middle Eastern
Christian & Muslim Religious Leaders at their meeting in Englewood.
New Jersey on Wednesday, November 8, 2000
The recent wave of violence in the Middle East is of grave concern. We condemn the violence, especially the excessive use of force by Israeli forces that has resulted in the killing of over 150 and the injury of 3,000 Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory including Jerusalem.
The demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, represent the collective expression by the Palestinian people against the long years of occupation and the difficulties of their daily lives under Israeli occupation. The protests have been an expression of deep frustration with the failure of the peace process to bring about better living conditions and a final peace settlement, including the long-awaited establishment of an independent Palestinian state. They have been an expression of their determination to protect their holy places. They have been an expression in defense of their inalienable rights and their land.
Regrettably, the Palestinian people continue to be denied the ability to restore even their minimum rights as a people, including the right to self-determination. We express our solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have been the victims of a long and unjust military occupation, and we call for the realization of their rights.
We express our deep concern and strong feelings regarding the sacred religious sites in Occupied East Jerusalem. We stress the importance of Jerusalem and the need to ensure respect for all holy sites. Any final solution must ensure the freedom of access and of worship for all believers of the three monotheistic religions. Any solution must also ensure Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem.
We believe that what is required now is an immediate cessation by Israel of the excessive, indiscriminate and unjustified use of force against the Palestinian people. The Israeli siege on the Palestinian people and the Palestinian land must be terminated. To restore calm, the understanding reached at the Sharm EI-Sheikh Summit must be implemented. Only then can there be any true resumption of the peace process between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. Such a process must require a sincere desire for peace and a full commitment on the part of all parties to its realization.
We believe that in order to resolve this tragic conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the UN Resolutions 242, 338 and 425 (concerning the farmlands of Shib'aa Lebanon) must be fully implemented because they express the will of the international community. In addition, we strongly believe that Resolution 194 and the Geneva Convention of 1949, namely Article IV, give the Palestinian refugees, whether they are in Lebanon or Syria, etc. the right to return to their homes and land which they have inhabited from time immemorial. The right of refugees to return home is a most sacred right and it should be respected.
As for the role of the United States in the Middle East peace process, we stress our disappointment with the adoption by our American Congress of the very unfair and very biased resolution #426 against the leadership of the Palestinian people. We demand a more balanced American position reflective of American traditions and the wishes of more than five million Arab-Americans in support of human rights, justice and international law. Such a position would enable the United States to play a truly objective and supportive role as a sponsor of the peace process.
In conclusion, our support for the Middle East peace process is unwavering. Our support for the rights of the Palestinian people and their efforts to realize those rights, including their right to an independent state, is unwavering as well. The time has come for justice and peace to prevail in the Holy Land and the realization of the rights of the Palestinian people as well as security for all states in the region.
The Most Reverend Metropolitan PHILIP, ChairmanAntiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America The Most ReverendArchbishop Oshagan CholoyanPrelacy of the Armenian ApostolicChurch of America
The Right Reverend Bishop Stephen DoueihiEparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn Imam Fadhel AI-SahlaniImam AI-Khoei Islamic Center, Jamaica, NY
The Most Reverend John A. ElyaEparch of Newton,Melkite Diocese of Newton Very Reverend Chorepiscopus John MenoFor The Most ReverendArchbishop Cyril Aphrem KarimArchdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Churchfor the Eastern United States
Sheikh Sami T. Merhi, ChairmanThe Druze Council of North America
Sheikh Hamad Ahmad ChebliIslamic Society of Central New Jersey