Friday, September 16, 2005, BY JULIA M. SCOTT, Star-Ledger Staff
The Azan, the Muslim call to prayer, will stream over the loudspeakers instead of pop music. Crowds will take a break from the roller coasters and thrill rides to kneel and pray on tarps facing Mecca. Instead of eating hot dogs and pizza, they feast on halal food prepared in accordance with Muslim law.
For one day, Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson will transform itself into an Islamic-friendly theme park.
Today’s Great Muslim Adventure Day will draw 15,000 people of Islamic faith, in what organizers call the largest single gathering of Muslims on the East Coast. And like any other day at the park, the lines will be long for Kingda Ka, the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the world.
The idea is to provide a fun environment that adheres to Islamic principles,” said organizer Ashfaq Parkar of the Islamic Circle of North America.
In its fourth year, the gathering has taken on overtones of a cultural holiday, Parkar said.
“You want to have things you associate with your culture,” Parkar said. “Christmas, Christians associate with their culture. This has become something Muslims look forward to.”
Like most holidays, the preparations are extensive.
ICNA began planning months ago, selecting six caterers to bus in trays of Pakistani, American and Indian fare. They designed banners and maps so guests will know where to go for a plate of curry or to pray. Tarps will be put down in certain areas for prayer services at 1 p.m., 5 p.m., sunset and 9 p.m., at which times the rides will be shut down and the music turned off. Organizers coordinated dozens of vendors to peddle incense, clothing and trinkets around the park’s central fountain.
The changed atmosphere accounts partly for the popularity of the gathering, which will draw people from as far as Michigan, Texas and Maryland.
“Some Muslims don’t really like to go to a gathering where there is going to be loud pop music or where people are not dressed appropriately,” Parkar said.
Being surrounded by so many other Muslims in an “Islamic” environment gives children a sense of belonging, said Mohamed Esseghir. He attended last year and plans to drive to the park with his wife and four daughters today.
“For children to see that people are observing the same lifestyle, even dressing the same, it strengthens their personality,” said Esseghir, 46. “It’s a struggle I’m sure every minority goes through, which is what is your heritage and how to be proud of it.”
This is the second time ICNA, which counts more than a hundred members in New Jersey, rented out the entire park.
Article Courtesy: Star-Ledger/NJ.com