A street naming resolution that caused a great deal of discord in the Bangladeshi-American community has been re-introduced under terms acceptable to the entire community. The council will name the street after the mosque instead of naming it after an early Bangladeshi immigrant.
The city council wanted to additionally name a section of Van Houten Street between Curtis Place and Main Street after Alhaj Forman Ali, an early immigrant to the city originating from Bangladesh. However, that came to naught when officials from Jalalabad Jam-E-Masjid, a mosque on Van Houten Street, vehemently expressed their disapproval and threatened to sue the city for violating their first amendment rights.
Mosque officials claimed that they were not informed of the street naming, and stated that the only reason Forman Ali was being honored was because someone misinformed the council by providing false information stating that he somehow played a role in the Van Houten Street mosque’s founding. Mosque committee members provided evidence proving their argument: a founding charter, stamped by the State of New Jersey, showed a list of names that were designated as various players in the mosque, and among the names there was no Forman Ali.
After the mosque decided to fight the street naming, the family of Forman Ali banded together and began attending council meetings to halt any cancellation of the street naming honoring their deceased family patriarch. During the meetings grandchildren of Forman Ali gave emotional testimonies upholding the character of their forefather. And it emerged that Forman Ali held prayers in his basement prior to the establishment of the mosque, hence, in the family’s view, he was the founder. It also emerged that the address which was used to register the Islamic Foundation of New Jersey, the organization that ultimately founded the mosque, was that of Forman Ali.
Mosque officials filed a federal lawsuit against the city, but that was withdrawn once council members, working behind the scenes, brought both parties — the family and the mosque committee — together and settled on a street name acceptable to both parties: Jalalabad Street. During a September council meeting where the dilemma was resolved both parties vaguely agreed to naming the street “Islamic Foundation Way.”
Many in the community objected to having a street named after a “ghulam”, an Arabic word for a slave, — a rank often used in the Bangladeshi community as a form of disparagement. It emerged after numerous discussions with members of the community that majority of Bangladeshis in Paterson are “ghulams”, save for a small number who look down upon them. Many blame these “ghulams” for causing trouble, including a recent violent episode over a failed parade, that left a few hospitalized.
Besides being the name of the mosque, Jalalabad is also a region in Bangladesh named after Shah Jalal, an 11th century Arab Muslim theologian, who, after being educated in Mecca, traveled east, eventually arriving in Bangladesh. The resolution does nothing to honor Forman Ali; however, during the meeting in which the compromise was struck between the mosque and the family there were talks of issuing a certificate or a paper of some sort recognizing Forman Ali’s contribution to the city.
The resolution is set for a vote during the next regular meeting of the council.