The working-class town of Paterson, New Jersey, with ties to September 11, 2001 both real and imagined, has its own jihad.

Because of his name, 15-year-old Jehad Faleh knows there are many usages for the Arabic word jihad, and many Arabic speakers say the one meaning holy war is a distortion.

Jihad, sometimes spelled jehad, literally means struggle, and is commonly meant to struggle in the way of God to improve one’s self or society.

“I thank my parents for naming me that,” Faleh said from the Islamic Center of Passaic County, one of the biggest mosques in Paterson. “I like the definition of struggle with one’s self. You come across obstacles and overcome them.”

As a sixth grader on September 11, 2001, Faleh said he lowered his head in shame. Now he engages his classmates, even when they taunt him about his “Uncle Osama.”

“I listen to rock, to hip-hop. I gel my hair like they do. During lunch, they ask me questions,” he said.

Paterson, too, is overcoming its obstacles, struggling to promote tolerance across religious lines.

About 20 miles northwest of New York, it is home to one of the largest and most diverse U.S. concentrations of Muslims, with immigrants from across the Arab world plus Turks and home-grown Muslims from the African-American population. . .

“Paterson I’m glad to say is one of the most progressive Muslim communities. They’ve made an effort to become part of the interfaith movement, to reach out,” said Afsheen Shamsi, spokeswoman for the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

“They are an example for the rest of the community.”


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