USA: Halal Food Festival in New Jersey draws thousands

By Charles W Kim, Managing Editor, South Brunswick Post
Around 5,000 people came to Rowland Park on Saturday to enjoy the second annual Halal Food Festival and to taste a variety of ethnic dishes from around the world.The festival is an observation of how those in the Islamic faith slaughter animals for meat products, Sharif Battat, one of the event’s organizers for the Islamic Society of Central Jersey said.

”It is the equivalent of kosher in the Jewish faith,” he said. “This is the prescribed way we slaughter our food.”

While no animals were actually killed during the festival, many vendors served up savory ethnic dishes from a variety of countries such as Turkey, Syria, India and Pakistan.

The turnout for the second year the event has been held, drew people from all over the region.

   ”We struck a nerve with the festival this year,” Mr. Battat said. “Most of the Muslims (here) are foodies.”In addition to the savory items that were available, some 12 vendors provided sweet desserts, which were also ethnic in nature.

You could also get primarily American items like pizza and funnel cake.

Mr. Battat said that the event was also held to show the many aspects of the Muslim community and featured prayers, songs, and even a bazaar where you could find clothing and other items for sale.

 Mafees Akhter brought his family from Harrison, in the northern part of the state, to enjoy the festival.”It is one of the biggest (festivals) around,” Mr. Akhter said. “We normally don’t get the chance to choose between this much Halal food.”

He said that the event also gives the ladies in the bazaar a chance to conduct business with the clothing and other items and to provide a social event for Muslims and others.

“It is great to be here, I’m liking it,” he said.

Members of the ISCJ’s female youth group, known as the “Sisters,” manned the registration table near the entrance.

The group of about 35 teens has been around for about a year, according to member Deena Syed, 18.

”This festival caters to the greater New Jersey Muslim community and non-Muslim community,” Ms. Syed said. “It shows people that Muslims are a peaceful, friendly people that love food.”

She said the food is communal and can bring people together to discuss differences in a friendly way.

”You can discuss your differences over a platter or a burger,” she said.

Ms. Syed also said that the way people of her religion are depicted in the media often fails to hit the mark.

”The image of Muslims that is portrayed by the media is not as accurate as it could be,” Ms. Syed said. “It is our duty to show that to the best of our ability.”

Even though there were multiple ethnic choices available, Ms. Syed said her favorite food of the day was a chicken and rice platter from an American pizzeria.