After almost a year of infighting between two factions of the community, Bangladeshi residents of the city held a ceremony outside of the Jalalabad Jam-E Masjid, a mosque on Van Houten Street, on Saturday afternoon, additionally naming a section of that street Jalalabad Street.
“It is a very important event for us, not only because of the street sign, but because of the effort of the people from Bangladesh in establishing this center,” said Saleh Ghani, secretary of the Islamic Foundation of New Jersey.
“I’m proud to be here, that it is in my time, I’m witnessing a Bangladeshi name on the street,” said Dewan Bojlu Chowdhury, a commissioner of the Haledon Municipal Utilities Authority.
The street naming is a first for the growing community, making it a big deal for the city’s Bangladeshi residents. Jalalabad is an area in Bangladesh named after a 13th century Sufi mystic Shah Jalal, who traveled from Yemen to what is now Bangladesh in hopes of spreading Islam.
Shah Jalal was a contemporary of the celebrated Muslim poet Jalaluddin Rumi. The mystic famously met with Ibn Battuta, a forerunner of Marco Polo, in Sylhet, the point of origination for most of the city’s Bangladeshi population.
With Jeffery Jones, the city’s mayor, counting down, Monirul Islam, consul general of the Bangladesh embassy in New York City, unveiled the new street sign.
“We as the Bangladeshi community are united. We do not have any division among us,” Ghani said. “We’re all united.”
When the initial resolution naming that section of the city was approved by the city council, it was to be called Alhaj Forman Ali Street, after an early immigrant, who held prayers in his basement prior to the establishment of the Van Houten Street mosque. However, the mosque learned about the additional naming and began protesting.
“We would have seen that sign today, instead of this, something else would have been hanging there,” said Harun Miah, a former president of the mosque.
Forman Ali’s family and relatives gave emotional speeches at the council imploring legislators to keep the street additionally named after their forefather, while officials from the mosque attended the same meeting with documents showing Forman Ali’s scant role in the mosque’s founding.
Mosque officials realizing council members will inertly sit and wait for it to blow over, filed a federal lawsuit which eventually compelled the council to rescind the resolution. During the rescission, Kenneth McDaniel, councilman at-large, proposed an acceptable compromise that both parties accorded to.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, proposed the street be named Jalalabad Street which would honor the mosque and Forman Ali, who is from the namesake town in Bangladesh. With over 100 people in attendance, there was not a single member of Forman Ali’s family present in the ceremony.
“They didn’t invite none of us,” said Akkas Ali, son of the deceased Forman Ali. Ali said he did not receive any formal invitation.
“We invited them, they didn’t come, what can I do?” Ghani said. “We called every member.”
The secretary said the mosque did not send out any formal invitations. “We did not send any letter to anybody,” said Ghani.
McDaniel said he received an invitation through text message. “I received an invite via text message,” said McDaniel. The family asked McDaniel to see whether he can have the event rescheduled, but postponement became an impossibility because too many dignitaries had been invited.
“What they did is they announced it in the mosque as a general invitation,” said Ali. “That’s the only invitation we got.”
Correction: the original article had stated erroneously that McDaniel suggested the current street name, instead it was Morris. McDaniel, who is part of the street naming committee crafted the resolution.