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Kelly celebrates Ramadan during Jamaica mosque visit

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Police Commissioner Ray Kelly took the time to get to know the city's Muslim community better Friday by visiting Queens' largest mosque and taking part in the feast that marks the religion's holiest days.

Kelly and the NYPD's Community Affairs chief, Douglas Zeigler, were greeted with rounds of applause from dozens of faithful visitors to the Imam Al-Kohei Islamic Center in Jamaica.

The two officials broke the observed fast with the other prayers as part of the traditions of the month-long holiday of Ramadan.

"This is one of the ongoing series of meetings that I had with the community," Kelly said during a press conference following the dinner.

The holiday, which officially began Sept. 1, celebrates the month when the archangel Gabriel gave the prophet Muhammad the Quran, the Muslim holy book. Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the celebration, according to the Five Pillars of Islam, the religion's five main acts of worship.

As Kelly ate his iftar, or breakfast, with the Shiite mosque's leaders, he talked about how the force has changed over the years to become more in tune with the Islamic community.

He noted that the NYPD recently hired a Muslim chaplin and created a Muslim police officer association. Recruits of other faiths also receive lessons on the Muslim religion and its customs with a 20-minute film at the academy, according to the commissioner.

"We are committed to having a close working relationship with the many diverse communities of our city," he said.

Al-Kohei's head imam, Sheikh Fadhel al-Sahalani, praised the NYPD's work over the years and said he was grateful that Kelly could join his community during their celebration.

"The commissioner is so busy but he accommodated his time to be here. It lets everyone feel that we belong to the same city and same culture," he said.

Kelly acknowledged that despite the city's diverse population, helping to create a tolerant and peaceful environment isn't easy.

After the meal, which included beef, chicken and salad dishes, he took questions from the audience about their concerns and offered some suggestions to help them.

"It's easy to sit in police headquarters and think everything is fine, but it is important to get out and hear directly from the people," he said.

Many of the mosque's visitors brought up the subject of profiling by police officers during stop-and-frisk procedures. Kelly assured them that the NYPD has strictly prohibited profiling any resident based on matters of race, religion, gender and other measures.

"Those are done under the provision of the law," he said.

He added that the department has started a pilot program where an officer issues a written statement to the person that explains why he or she was stopped.

In a similar topic, some members asked the commissioner if anything was being done to curb racist crime against Muslims in the city. Kelly said the department's Bias Crime Bureau has worked hard to bring down the number of those incidents.

"We want you to report about it and if there is any bias, an investigation will be done," he said.

Al-Sahalani thanked Kelly for his time and told the commissioner that his community will work to complement the police for a safe city.

"Islam considers the love of the place where you live as part of your belief," he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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