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A Guide to Ramadan Celebrations in Hoboken + Jersey City

by Yiwei Gu
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Every year, the holy month of Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar to commemorate prophet Muhammad’s first revelation in 610 AD. This year, it starts on April 12th and culminates on May 12th — which is called Eid al Fitr or “Festival of Breaking the Fast.”You may already know that during the holy month, millions of Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset. However, the Islamic holy month is much more than fasting and eating; it is a time for reflection, charity, and community. This year, the pandemic has added another layer of significance to the holy month.

In fact, in normal times, Ramadan is often a communal experience. Mosques are packed with worshippers, especially during prayer times. Ramadan 2021, however, with social distancing rules strictly enforced, has caused the rituals and gatherings to move online. Local mosques have been holding multiple prayer sessions as well as Islamic story hours via Facebook live or other video conferencing tools. 

Locally, in Hoboken and Jersey City, religious organizations have been holding various prayers, lectures, and fundraisers on social media, attracting large swaths of followers. On the Facebook page Alhoda Islamic Center of Jersey City, for example, in each live prayer session, hundreds of comments in various languages are left by believers from around the country. So, in honor of this holiday, we’ve rounded up a guide to local celebrations in Hoboken + Jersey City, beyond virtual events.

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Giving Back

  ramadan sisterhood

{Photo credit: @njsisterhood}

In addition to fasting and praying, another big part of Ramadan is charity. As one of the five pillars of Islam, giving away is a regular part of the religious practice carried out throughout the year. And during Ramadan, followers usually double down on their charity efforts. NJ Sisterhood, a Hudson County Muslim women’s group, for example, had been working with local mosques and volunteers to deliver groceries to Hudson County families in need. Packages of grocery and other basic necessities have been donated to more than 500 families during Ramadan. They also started a campaign called Operation Eid Gifts to deliver 1,000 toys to children around Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan and is usually celebrated with feasts, prayers, and gift-giving. 

NJ Sisterhood also posted on its Instagram about a Women’s Shelter Drive in honor of March being Women’s History Month. The collection goes until April 19th and ways to donate are located on their Instagram post.

See More: All About the Hoboken Community Center + Food Pantry and How You Can Help

Breaking Fast

seven valleys food

Of course, for many people who observe Ramadan, one important daily ritual is iftar, or breaking of the day’s fast. It happens at the call to evening prayer at sundown, and people often start it with some dried dates, along with a few bites of other finger food. A full meal follows after the evening prayer. In some countries, iftar takes the form of elaborate banquets shared with extended family, friends, or even the entire neighborhood, and the preparation may start two to three hours before the meal. Restaurants also prepare iftar specials for those who prefer to eat out for the big meal. Mosques, where the evening prayers take place, would often arrange daily free iftar for those in need. In some large cities, mosques, cultural institutions, or NGOs would also organize iftar parties that allow people of other religions to engage in Muslim culture. 

Since the COVID-19 lockdown has made such gatherings impossible, iftar has been largely confined to single households since last year. This is especially difficult amid the losses, stress, and social isolation of the past year. In response, Raihan Faroqui, founder of a New York-based organization that advocates for Bangladeshi Americans’ rights, held Zoom iftar sessions, attracting more than a hundreds of Muslim and non-Muslim attendants including congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Radham described the experience as a “healing” event in which people shared their pain and frustrations with a larger group.

Local Happenings for Iftar

Local businesses have also tried to make iftar special this past year. Korai Kitchen {576 Summit Avenue, Jersey City}, Jersey City’s famous Bangladeshi eatery, has launched a “Ramadan Special” offering some of the most typical fast-breaking seasonal dishes from Bangladesh. Last year, “iftar boxes” were available consisting of “light finger food,” such as dates, assorted fritters and croquettes, nutty and flavorful “black chickpeas,” and an extremely fluffy and buttery beef and rice dish called tahari. This year, they will be available again serving beef tehari, dates, piyaju, aloo chop, beguni, and boot. The other Ramadan specials are haleem and shorbroth. All Ramadan specials are accessible for both pickup and delivery through Uber Eats, Menufy, and DoorDash. There is also information in the Korai Kitchen menu!

“Fried foods are very typical for iftar in Bangladesh,” Nur-E, who runs Korai Kitchen with her mother, told Hoboken Girl. “That’s why we included eggplant and chickpea fritters in the box.” The fritters actually hold their crispness even after more than half an hour in a take-out box and Nur-E suggests eating them directly without reheating in microwave ovens.

For a more festive and substantial dish, go for the beef Haleem. “My mom has always wanted to make haleem for Ramadan,” Nur-E said. “Since the dish requires six hours of slow cooking, it hasn’t really been very feasible in previous years, with the kitchen constantly churning out dishes for the lunch and dinner buffet.” This year, with a more streamlined operation under the online-order model, the dish, which is extremely popular in South Asian countries during Ramadan, is finally added to the menu. Lentils and beef are completely melted together in a hearty, smooth blend, which is enhanced by a zesty and well-balanced mixture of ginger, cardamom, lime, along with assorted spices. “It’s really really authentic and traditional and I just love it,” Nur-E said.

For Eid, the fast-breaking celebration which takes place on May 12th and 13th, Korai Kitchen had also rolled out a feasting menu last year consisting of kabobs, goat biryani, “rezala” {a creamy curry}, and hilsa {a meaty freshwater fish from Bangladesh}, all of which are festive and “super popular” dishes for Eid in Bangladesh.

Deccan Spice {771 Newark Avenue, Jersey City}, Jersey City’s Hyderabadi restaurant, has also offered a special Ramadan menu, which reflects a different culinary tradition among Indian Muslims. Chicken and lamb are stewed with lentils and barley in the haleem instead of beef, cashew and dairy are used more generously to achieve a richer flavor. In addition, paneer {pressed cheese} kabobs are also on the Ramadan menu.

The extensive menu of Jersey City’s eatery, Gypsy Grill, offers a traditional middle eastern fare with an Egyptian twist. Alongside Middle eastern comfort foods such as dips {hummus, baba ganouj, etc}, falafels, and moussakas, there is a wide variety of grilled meat. On weekends, the traditional Egyptian “kushari” is also available — a festive vegetarian dish made of rice, lentils, pasta tossed in a zesty dressing. Takeout and delivery are available for both lunch and dinner services.

{Photo credit: @gypsygrillnj}

Gyspy Grill recently shared on their Instagram a Happy Ramadan to all!

Read More: Staying In? Here Are Restaurants Offering Delivery in Hoboken + Jersey City



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