JACKSON, N.J., Sept. 17 – It may have been Aqsa Khan’s first visit to Six Flags Great Adventure, but she knew enough to hustle over to the park’s largest roller coaster as soon as the midday prayer ended.
“I thought I was going to die,” said Ms. Khan, a sophomore at New York University, upon exiting the Nitro, the mile-long roller coaster that drops 230 feet at about 85 miles per hour. Accompanied by a half-dozen classmates, Ms. Khan was among the estimated 15,000 Muslims who came out for Muslim Youth Day on Friday, when the Great Adventure theme park was set aside for Muslims from as far away as Massachusetts and North Carolina. Many of the children were off from school, since public schools in New York City, Philadelphia and much of New Jersey were closed for Rosh Hoshanah.
“It’s nice to see so many here,” said Ms. Khan’s friend Maheen Farooqi, a junior from Long Island. “I haven’t really been around so many Muslims at one time before.”
Shaista Barch, who was waiting in line at the giant swing ride with some of the 50 relatives who joined her here, concurred. “It’s a good Muslim day,” she said.
Yet Muslim Youth Day, intended as a day of relaxation and morale boosting, has not been a thoroughly smooth ride. The last week has been fraught with threats and racial epithets lobbed at the Islamic Circle of North America, the group that rented the park for the event, and the corporate offices of Six Flags Great Adventure.
Kristin Siebeneicher, Six Flags’s spokeswoman, said she spent the week in interviews with radio performers from New Jersey, California, Colorado, Texas and Oklahoma who wanted to know why the park was turning its rides over to Muslims and shutting everyone else out for the day.
“The concerns are that they believe the event is exclusionary,” Ms. Siebeneicher said. “I don’t think most people understood it was a day we’re closed anyway, and we were not taking something away from the public to give to a private group.”
In the spring and fall, Six Flags is open only on weekends, and the park is often rented out to groups on weekdays, Ms. Siebeneicher said. She added that the National Conference of Synagogue Youth regularly rented the park for a day, as well as the Catholic Youth Rally and an organization of home-schooled children.
Earlier this week, the words “for Muslims only” were removed from the sponsor’s Internet advertisement for the event. Adem Carroll, a relief coordinator and spokesman for Islamic Circle of North America, said the event was never intended to exclude others, particularly because many of its members are in mixed families, with Muslims and non-Muslims. The intent instead was to provide a protected environment for those seeking to relax.
“A lot of people don’t feel safe going on another day,” Mr. Carroll said. “Because of our dress standards, they might be afraid of being taunted. There’s a lot of hostility out there.”
Raza Farrukh, chairman of the organization’s local chapter and chief coordinator of the event, said some people who bought the discounted $20 passes were concerned for their safety.
On Thursday, the F.B.I. brought in bomb-sniffing dogs to do a full sweep of the park, said Mr. Farrukh, who sent out a mass e-mail message to ticketholders earlier in the week informing them of added security. The park brought in not only the Jackson Township police but also a contingent of F.B.I. agents for the day.
Ms. Siebeneicher said that the most disturbing thing about the questions she fielded about the event was the implication that Six Flags was playing host to a terrorist-friendly organization.
She said one talk show host asked if the company would rent the park to Nazis. The park’s guest services phone lines and the company’s corporate offices in Oklahoma were flooded by callers asking Six Flags to reverse its decision and threatening to boycott or sue the park.
“It’s truly sad and very unfortunate that people feel that way,” she said. “This is America. Six Flags doesn’t discriminate against race, religion or sexual orientation. We’re not about politics.”
Nevertheless, Six Flags did run an additional F.B.I. check on the sponsoring group, despite the fact that they had rented the park to the group twice before.
In fact, the last time Muslim Youth Day took place here was just three days before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Farhan Pervez, the secretary of Islamic Circle of North America, said his group, based in Queens, decided to skip the event the last two years because “we didn’t want to be in a festive mood around that anniversary.”
When talks resumed with Six Flags last winter to bring the event back, the group sought to book a day in a month other than September, but were told that Friday was the only day available, Mr. Pervez said.
Most of those who came to Friday’s event – while highly sensitive to the bias against Muslims, often brought on by their style of dress – were unaware of this week’s controversy.
“Of course we are looked at,” said Bayan Adileh, a 14-year-old from North Bergen, N.J., wearing a black and white scarf covering her head. “People wonder why we are outside our house. You learn to ignore it.”
While most of the women at the event complied with some version of the dress code, or hijab, fully covering their bodies and heads, standards were somewhat loosened for the men, many of whom were admitted in shorts and T-shirts.
With rides scheduled to open at 3 p.m., the lines to enter the park grew slow and long by early afternoon, as the security force raked through pocketbooks, backpacks and baby strollers. With the crowd growing antsy, the park added security guards at 2:30 p.m. to speed up the entry process.
After waiting two hours to get in, Yassar Abraham and his family headed straight to the picnic area, where halal dishes like samosas, biryani and buttered chicken replaced the usual burgers and fries.
Before racing off to their favorite rides, most gathered for the midday prayer. Giant blue plastic tarps were spread across the pavement in front of Fort Independence, where men knelt facing east during the hourlong sermon. Behind them, women lined more blue tarps on the ground beside Bluebeard’s Lost Treasure Train. Three other less formal prayer sessions were scheduled throughout the day.
Six Flags would usually have had its Halloween decorations up by now, but the park honored the sponsor’s request to hold off hanging skeletons, witches and ghosts, which Mr. Farrukh said were viewed as idols by some Muslims.
Most of the park’s shops and concessions were closed, and those that were open were not too busy. Much more active was the open-air bazaar outside the Batman and Robin roller coaster, where shoppers could buy a new gown, scarf or prayer rug.
Youssra Kamal of Matawan, N.J., was doing a brisk business in scarves, head pieces and sleeve extensions. “It’s difficult to get these around here,” Ms. Kamal said. “We’re trying to do something that looks fashionable and elegant, but still is religious.”
After three years of lying low, most of those who came to Six Flags on Friday were happy to have Muslim Youth Day back on the calendar.
“A lot of Muslims are scared to have big gatherings,” Ms. Farooqi said. “They’re afraid to be in the public eye. If something goes wrong again, they don’t want to be there. But we need to do this kind of thing. It’s time.”