Serving Humanity to serve God
Serving Humanity to serve God
Zohra Lasania, Assistant Editor
Come Sunday, when most people would stir out of their beds late mid morning, when the sun has risen much high up in the sky. It’s a weekend to enjoy, a break from work, and a lazy day.
Not so, for a group of Muslims in Pittsburgh. A sister has risen early morning, preparing 30 food packets – a sandwich, a fruit and water bottle – each in a brown paper bag – sealed with a dash of love and prayers – for the homeless that shelter in a downtown location. Soon, cell phones begin to ring, and a chain of communication takes place - what time are we leaving, where are we meeting, and who is going today and who is not. It’s 10:00 a.m. - the group is already on their way, the brothers in one car, and sisters offer a ride to each other in another car. At 10:30 a.m. they converge in a Giant Eagle Parking lot, and wish each other “Assalam Alaikum” as they alight all bright-eyed.
On most Sundays they are a group of six to seven or even more – brothers full of enthusiasm, and sisters, with smiles, some in hijab, and some without. They stand in a little circle, and say a little prayer to God, reminding themselves that they are doing this for the sake of God alone. Energized by the prayer, they pick up the bags of food, and march towards the overpass bridge.
A big group of homeless people, are huddled under the shade of the bridge, away from the prying eyes of the world, some asleep, some already awake, and some in anticipation. One of them calls out “Assalam Alaikum” with a friendly familiar smile. The brothers and sisters wish them back, walk over to them, hand them the packets, and hang around enquiring after them. Then they move on, to another spot, and to another spot till all the food packets have been given out.
Humbly they trod back to the parking lot, in deep contemplation. They form a little circle again, and raise their hands in prayer, asking God to give them the strength to do what they have to do, and share God’s bounty with all of His creations. The brothers and sisters thank each other for coming, and depart.
Till next Sunday, when the same routine repeats. Some of them go each Sunday, while others take turns. Food is prepared in rotation, so that no one is burdened with the task.
Who are these brothers and sisters? They belong to the Muslim community of Pittsburgh and represent a wide spectrum of age, ethnicity, profession and community. Sisters who prepare the food are housewives, working professional or students. And the brothers and sisters who go to the site are students, or professionals or even stay at home young moms. But one common thing that binds them is the desire to wake up each Sunday morning and think of the homeless first, and to spend a little time for them, doing whatever they can.
The work of this group may be a drop in the ocean, but it’s a practical beginning, begun 9 months ago, and Insha’Allah will inspire others to join and keep going for a long time to come. The idea took seed in a masjid gathering when a sister from Atlanta (from the Custodians of Faith) narrated how she runs a group there who do this Sunday after Sunday to feed the homeless on a much larger scale. As a staff member of CAIR Pittsburgh chapter, I was eager to know more, and the idea seemed very practical and not an impossible task to do this in Pittsburgh.
Thus, off we set out the next day, exploring the sites where the homeless took shelter in Pittsburgh downtown. Thus in the Oct of 2011, the project took shape, (as a Custodians of Faith and CAIR Pittsburgh initiative) when a group of us visited the homeless with food packets for the first time. Since then brothers and sisters from all the masajids in town joined the group, Alhamdulillah, and we haven’t looked back. Sisters offered to prepare the food packets, while many young brothers and sisters accompany the group helping carry the load, or talking to the homeless, or simply being there as support. We strive to do it week after week, relentlessly. It opened our eyes, to the reality around us. Most of us live in a world complaining about things we do not have. One visit to the homeless site would put things in perspective, and help us put the needs of others first. Much needs to be done for the homeless, but on a personal level we have made a beginning, and we intend to keep this project going.
The purpose behind this work is not to convert them to Islam, but to help Allah’s creations, even if it be in the form of one sandwich to one hungry person in the entire week. . Being American Muslim is not just about planting the American flag on our front door, but it’s about being in solidarity with the rest of the humanity around us. We live here, therefore it is our duty to integrate with our own surrounding first, and be in the present. Calling ourselves American Muslims would become meaningful only when we Muslims are seen doing ordinary things that most Americans do for the larger humanity around us, in our daily lives.
With so much stereotyping of Muslims going on around in the U.S., most Muslims here cry hoarse explaining about themselves. We write letters to the editor, we publish books debunking the Islamophobes and their ideas, we present to the public the findings of research, and we do interfaith meets, in the hope that the stereotyping will stop.
But Muslims, stop, stop for a moment. To be an American Muslim in true spirit, we have to prove with actions, not just mere words. Apart from serving the greater humanity, when Muslims in hijab are out on the street on a Sunday morning, seen talking to the homeless and enquiring about their needs, it is bound to change the negative stereotyping of Muslims some day. Insha Allah.
To quote a hadith:
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “God will question a person on the day of resurrection, “Didn’t you know that a servant of Mine asked you for food but you did not feed him, and were you not aware that if you had fed him you would have found him by My side?”
Serving humanity is serving God.