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Jalal Talabani ends Ramadan fast at boro Islamic center

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For the second time in three weeks, the largest mosque in Queens opened its doors last Thursday to a special guest as it celebrated the Muslim religion's holiest holiday.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani broke the traditional Ramadan fast at the Imam Al-Kohei Islamic Center in Jamaica. Talabani was in the city for the United Nations General Assembly and said he was honored to visit the Shiite mosque.

"Believe me, I canceled a meeting with the prime minister of Japan because I prefer to be here with you," he told the worshipers following the meal.

The 74-year-old leader prayed with the mosque's members as they ended another night of the month-long holiday that celebrates the time God gave the Prophet Muhammad the Koran. Faithful Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset to show humility toward God and pray for peace.

After their end of the day's prayers, Muslims break the fast with an iftar, or breakfast.

Following his buffet meal, Talabani echoed the message of Ramadan when he reassured the mosque's members that he would work hard to bring peace to the Gulf region and bring order to a country that was oppressed for decades by strongman Saddam Hussein.

"All Muslims of the world will be happy and enjoy their freedom and democracy," he said.

Talabani, who is Kurdish, was elected Iraq's president in 2005 by the Iraqi National Assembly following the U.S. military invasion in 2003. The next year he was re-elected by the people of the new democracy under its new constitution.

Sheikh Fadhel al-Sahalani, the head imam at Al-Kohei, who was exiled during Hussein's regime, said he has faith in the president's ability and thanked him for all of his hard work in improving his nation.

Before Talabani left to meet with other world leaders that night, al-Sahalani presented the president with a plaque that commemorated his visit.

"It is our honor to have the first and the only president that has been elected by the people of Iraq," he said. "We hope with this new system ... we have great hope that Iraq will be one of the most successful and most advanced in the world."

Talabani was not the only leader to visit Al-Kohei during Ramadan this year. Three weeks ago, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly visited the mosque and shared an iftar with its administrators and worshipers. Last year Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also broke the fast at the house of worship and answered questions on the state of his nation.

Al-Kohei worshiper Said Hashim, 40, said he appreciated the time both men took to honor the virtues of Islam during their busy schedules.

"You feel better about yourself because he showed he cared about the community," the Rockaway Beach resident said of Talabani.

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

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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