The Islamic Center of South Jersey has been around since 1989
The oldest Islamic Center located in South Jersey resides in Palmyra on Garfield Avenue. The center, called the Islamic Center of South Jersey, has been in Palmyra for more than two decades. The center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to serve the religious, educational, cultural and social needs of local Muslims regardless of their origin or race.
Islamic Center of South Jersey Imam Niaz Hannan says while the center has families that reside in Palmyra, many of the families that attend the center come from miles away.
In addition to being the Imam, Hannan is also a full-time scholar, administrator, teacher and the director of religious programming at the mosque. Hannan is responsible for leading prayers at the mosque, leading the Friday sermon, helping with Sunday school, teaching basic Arabic and Islamic studies to children in the evenings and any other day-to-day religious activities happening at the mosque.
Hannan is particularly active in youth community affairs and does work at many of the local universities. He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and attended school in Pennsylvania until high school when he moved to England. While in England, Hannan, whose parents are immigrants from Bangladesh, memorized the full Arabic text of the Quran from cover to cover. He completed seven years of religious study and got a specialization in law to attain his title of Mufti — a Muslim legal expert able to give rulings on religious matters.
Hannan also attended the University of Cambridge where he did a leadership training program under well-known British Sunni Muslim sheikh, researcher, writer and academic Timothy Winter.
Hannan joined the Islamic Center of South Jersey in 2014 and has been working to make improvements ever since. The center offers marriage counseling, family therapy, family nights, Quran classes for women as well as Quran classes in English, youth programs and interfaith dialogue.
Hannan also gets requests from local hospitals and prisons for Muslim Chaplaincy services. The mosque also recently invited Palmyra Police Department Chief Scott Pearlman and Palmyra Police Department Patrolman Stephen Coveleski among others into the mosque to have a panel and open dialogue.
Hannan says interfaith dialogues are extremely important, especially in the wake of the most recent presidential election. He says many Muslims are feeling nervous, confused and have a lot of questions about what their future in America holds. Additionally, a lot of non-Muslims are afraid of what they do not know and are blinded by what the media has shown them about Muslims ever since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“There is no conflict in being a patriot and being a citizen of a country and also being a good Muslim. Part of being a good Muslim is that you have to be a good citizen,” Hannan said. “Islam is a religion that advocates justice, that advocates mercy, that advocates tolerance, that advocates learning and teaching, that advocates dialogue.”
Hannan added that instead of taking the misactions of one Muslim and judging the entire religion of Islam based off it, society should instead look at what the religion preaches, which is peace and submission.
Despite the Muslim community being afraid of what’s to come, Hannan calls the 2016 presidential election a “blessing in disguise,” as it has created a platform for discussion.
“People are coming and visiting now,” Hannan said. “People want to know, they want to engage.”
Hannan said the best thing the non-Muslim community can do is to educate themselves and others.
“Find material to read up about Islam. Just find out more,” Hannan said. “Visit a mosque, visit your Muslim neighbor who lives down the street. Find out who they are.”
Hannan joked that Muslims are boring, adding most non-Muslims would be surprised to find out they have a lot in common with members of the Muslim community. Hannan added now is the time for Muslims and non-Muslims to work harder to understand each other and to eradicate ignorance and hate.
“We definitely want to make sure that everybody has a chance to visit a mosque and everybody has a chance to ask about questions. If they’re afraid about something, come and share their concern,” Hannan said.
The mosque is working to add more interfaith nights so community members of other faiths can learn more about Islam. Hannan says the center would like to have three or four interfaith nights each year.
“We have a very big obligation of propagating the message and the beauty of Islam to our hosts here,” Hannan said, referring to Muslims in America. “And we’re not even being hosted by them now — we are part of the fabric of this society.”