Six Flags theme park hosts Muslim Day

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MARCO WERMAN: For Muslims living in the US, it's been an especially sensitive time. And this weekend is no exception. That's because the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks happens to coincide this year with a major Islamic holiday. The World's Alex Gallafent reports.

ALEX GALLAFENT: Today, many Muslims are celebrating. Early this morning, a group gathered at a mosque in Brooklyn, New York. After prayers, they boarded a bus, excited at what lay ahead.

MALE SPEAKER: I'm missing two people. Those who paid. Some families didn't come. But we are taking the bus away. That's it. Okay, let's go.

GALLAFENT: The destination, Six Flags Great Adventure, a theme park in New Jersey. Today is the day of Eid. Eid marks the end of Ramadan, the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, a month for getting closer to God, says Ashfaq Parkar.

ASHFAQ PARKAR: And what we're celebrating on this day is that God has forgiven us our sins. And it's that which is the celebration.

GALLAFENT: Parkar is with the New Jersey chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America or ICNA. He says the vagaries of the lunar calendar means that this year Eid could be celebrated today, or tomorrow, September 11th. Parkar and his colleagues chose not to celebrate on the 11th.

PARKAR: We as American Muslims share in the same type of grief as our wider community. So September 11th is a day of grief for Muslims as it is for other people, and a day of celebration is more befitting on the 10th.

GALLAFENT: On the bus, a five year old tells me what's on his mind.


GALLAFENT: Ahmed Abdel Shafy is traveling with his Egyptian-born parents, Ola and Sharef.

SHAFY: I want to ride the train and airplane.

GALLAFENT: Ola says she wants Ahmed and his younger sister to have a good time.

OLA SHAFY: I hope they get some fun today.

GALLAFENT: A couple hours after leaving Brooklyn, the bus pulls up at Six Flags in New Jersey. The amusement park wouldn't normally be open today. But it's a special event, one held at Six Flags' parks around the country.

MALE SPEAKER: The ICNA and Six Flags present Muslim Family Day, the biggest Muslim event of the year in seven major cities nationwide. Come join us for a day of Halal fun and delicious Halal food.

GALLAFENT: The ICNA says nearly 50,000 Muslims attend each year. Not surprising, says Ashfaq Parkar. It's a great day out.

PARKAR: Rollercoasters, nice food, meeting friends, family.

GALLAFENT: But even here, September 11th makes its mark.

MUHAMMED AHMED: There's a sober mood as well as a celebration.

GALLAFENT: Muhammed Ahmed has been involved in Muslim Family Day since it began in 2000. Back then he worked alongside one of the original organizers, a man named Tariq Amunallah.

AHMED: Tariq was a very nice, like any American could be. I knew him for a long time. A family man.

GALLAFENT: Amunullah was vice-president of an investment bank in Manhattan. He worked on the 97th floor of Tower 2 at the World Trade Center. The last time Muhammed Ahmed saw him was here at the park, a few days before September 11th, 2001.

AHMED: As soon as I come here and pass by this place, I still think of him all of the time.

GALLAFENT: Amunullah was one of about 60 Muslims believed to have been killed in the September 11th attacks. But that piece of information didn't prevent a mini storm of controversy earlier in the summer. Muslim Family Days in Dallas, Chicago and Washington are set to take place on Sunday, September 12th.

JOE KAUFMAN: The fact that they are having it on September 12th I believe they are actually spitting in the face of Americans.

GALLAFENT: That's Joe Kaufman, speaking on Fox News. He leads a group called Americans Against Hate.

PARKAR: How do we move forward from here?

GALLAFENT: Ashfaq Parkar mentions one of his projects with the Islamic Circle of North America, a phone number people can call for information, or just a chat, about Islam. Sometimes, he says, people do call up angry. Given events such as September 11th, he gets that.

PARKAR: They have a reason why they have these negative sentiments, and unless they've got a way of getting this tension out and talking it over with somebody, those negative sentiments aren't going to go away.

GALLAFENT: By the way, Parkar points out that Six Flags Muslim Family Day isn't just for Muslims. He says he'd love to see anyone come along and join in the fun. For The World, I'm Alex Gallafent at Six Flags, New Jersey.