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May 02, 2023

New Jersey to observe Muslim Heritage Month each January beginning in 2024

Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced a similar bill in April, following states like Utah and Illinois

Each January beginning in 2024, New Jersey will celebrate Muslim Heritage Month, an observance meant to honor the traditions and recognize the contributions of the state's substantial Muslim community.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a resolution to establish the observance during the state's celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a festival signifying the end of Ramadan, at Drumthwacket in Princeton on Saturday. 

"New Jersey greatly benefits from the patriotism, philanthropy, advocacy, civic engagement, business and culture of Muslim Americans and Muslim American organizations in our state," Murphy said in a press release. "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." 

There are more than 3 million Muslims living in the United States, including more than 300,000 in New Jersey, according to state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, a North Jersey Republican who sponsored the legislation. Among the most notable in public service are Assemblywomen Shama Haider and Sadaf Jaffer, two of the first Muslim Americans elected to New Jersey's legislature. 

Though the Muslim population in the United States has grown over the last several decades, Muslims have lived in the United States for centuries, even before the country's founding in 1776. According to scholars, an estimated 30% of enslaved Africans brought to the U.S. practiced the faith. 

Muslims have been at the forefront of mathematics, science and the arts, responsible for notable achievements, like pioneering operative surgery and bringing coffee to the Western half of the globe. 

While the main goal of Muslim Heritage Month is to promote pride in the state's Muslim population, officials are also hopeful it will bring attention to an influx of bias incidents and hate crimes across New Jersey. 

There were 1,871 bias incidents reported in New Jersey in 2021, an increase of 29% from the previous year, according to data from the Attorney General's Office. While most of the reported incidents involved anti-Black or anti-Jewish bias, the state also saw a rise in anti-Muslim bias. 

More than 100 cases of anti-Muslim discrimination were tracked by the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations in 2022. In November and December, a truck displaying anti-Muslim messages stopped outside four Islamic centers in New JerseySpotlight NJ reported.

"This is a historic moment," Selaedin Maksut, executive director of CAIR-NJ, said. "For too long, we've seen damaging and irresponsible depictions of Muslims. These narratives have tangible consequences, but now, we will be seeing the counter and, hopefully soon, prevailing narrative: one that highlights, celebrates, and acknowledges the American Muslim community in New Jersey." 

Last year, Utah became one of several states to designate July as Muslim-American Heritage Month. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox made the declaration last summer, remarking that Utah is "enriched" by the societal contributions and cultural traditions of Muslim Americans and acknowledging the neglect and Islamophobic sentiment residents have experienced. 

Washington and Illinois have also passed similar measures.

In Pennsylvania, Rep. Tarik Khan, a Democrat representing portions of Northwest Philadelphia, introduced a resolution in April that would designate March as American Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month. Khan chose March for the proposed observance because it coincides with the beginning of Ramadan, which typically ends in late April with Eid al-Fitr. 

In a co-sponsorship memo, Khan and Rep. Jason Dawkins, a Democrat representing portions of Northeast Philly, acknowledged that Pennsylvania is home to a "robust Muslim-American community" that is expected to grow across the state and throughout the country over the next several decades, according to the Pew Research Center. 

The resolution has the support of more than a dozen House Democrats, and was referred to the State Government Committee for a vote in early April. 

As public support for a Muslim-centric observance grows, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker introduced a federal resolution to designate July as Muslim-American Heritage Month. The legislation has since stalled in the U.S. Senate, though nine Democratic senators are listed as co-sponsors. 

Many Muslim-American leaders were invited to celebrate the end of Ramadan at the White House on Monday, including Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah, who was denied entry to the reception by Secret Service, CNN reported. 

It remains unclear why he was turned away from the ceremony, though CAIR-NJ called the decision an "affront to the Muslim community."