Muslim Humanitarian Day Serves US Homeless
October 17, 2006
By Sahar Kassaimah
WASHINGTON — In its fifth year, the annual Muslim Humanitarian Day has expanded to serve around 20,000 homeless individuals and families in fourteen cities nationwide, regardless of any and all religious and ethnic backgrounds.
“We usually provide them with a warm meal like a burger donated by a restaurant,” Mostafa Mahboob, media and public relations representative of Islamic Relief, one of the lead coordinators of the event, told IslamOnline.net on Tuesday, October 17.
“Like in previous years, beneficiaries received a gift package including hygiene and emergency kits, bath towels, clothing, blankets, ponchos and toys for children.”
In addition, this year’s event has included free critical medical services, such as health screening, HIV/AIDS screenings, flu vaccinations, educational materials and referral information.
“There were also various booths staffed by community organizations that offered social and health services,” said Mahboob.
“The lead national coordinators are Islamic Relief and the Intellect, Love, and Mercy (ILM) Foundation,” he added.
Participating organizations also include the Muslim American Society (MAS), Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Coalition to Preserve Human Dignity (CPHD) and the Rahima Foundation.
Started in Los Angeles three years ago, Humanitarian Day has become an annual event in the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
It was organized this year in fourteen cities: Los Angeles, CA, Las Vegas, NV, Detroit, MI, Newark, NJ, Baltimore, MD, Baton Rouge, LA, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, Houston, TX, New Orleans, LA, New York, NY, Portland, OR and Washington, D.C.
“Each individual city has its own local sponsors, including mosques, MAS and CAIR chapters and others,” said Mahboob.
“In cities like Houston, the mayor and Sheila Jackson Lee, the Congresswoman, have attended the Humanitarian Day to support the event.”
This year’s event has come a long way since its inception in Downtown Los Angeles’ “skid row” in 2002.
Serve With Dignity
For organizers, the goal of this charitable event is to serve with dignity people who otherwise do not receive much attention and care in society.
“Humanitarian Day is a day when we provide service to our fellow homeless in the form of dignity and respect,” said Umar A. Hakeem of the Coalition to Preserve Human Dignity (CPHD).
Some Islamic charitable organizations believe it is part of its responsibilities to help the homeless and needy people.
“Even the clothing we provide, we make sure it is new,” said Mahboob.
“The homeless population in this country is increasing each year, and it is our responsibility to pay attention to the needs of our fellow citizens and help them any way we can.
“We also need to become concerned with the crisis of homelessness and work long and hard towards fixing this problem.”
Other organizers think such events give them an opportunity to teach Muslim youths that giving back to the community is part of their future.
“This year MAS Youth helped to buy toys and food for the needy in streets of Los Angeles as the cold winter approaches,” said Khan of MAS Valley Chapter.
“We served over 1,500 people this year to add and we hope to increase that number by 25 percent next year,” he added.
“Also, we want to do something on monthly basis, but off course in much smaller scale. We want to make giving back to the community part of our youth’s future with the help of Allah.”
“Ramadan is a time of increased compassion and caring for others,” agreed Habibe Husain, founder of the Rahima Foundation, the event’s primary organizer at the Greater San Francisco Bay Area.
“Our goal is to give the homeless community hope and relief to ease their struggle.”
For the Rahima Foundation, the San Francisco chapter of CAIR (CAIR-SFBA) and other Muslim organizations from around the Greater San Francisco Bay Area this year’s event was their third annual Humanitarian Day.
Making A Difference
Thousands of Muslims volunteer to make a difference and help others.
This charitable event is the largest national humanitarian effort during Ramadan, when Muslims are encouraged as part of their faith to donate to the poor and the needy.
Thousands of American Muslims across the nation volunteered to assist the Humanitarian Day activities in their local neighborhoods.
For the volunteers, Humanitarian Day allows them to see the harsh life others are living in their own backyards and provides them an opportunity, even if it’s for just one day, to make a difference and help others.
“It is the first time for me to directly deal with homeless people,” said Ahmad Radi, a Muslim youth and one of thousands other volunteers across the states.
“I always see homeless, but I’ve never been in direct contact with them. It’s so sad to think that in America, this powerful and rich country, there are people living without hopes. They have nothing. All what they dream of is having a ceiling or a roof to protect them,” Radi told IOL.
The same sentiments were echoed by 14-year-old Moniar Mansoory, one of MAS Valley Youth volunteers.
“We want to help them to have something thing nice at least one day in a year,” he said.
This year MAS Valley Youth took over 60 volunteers to help with the event.
“This was my second year coming here with MAS Youth,” said 20-year-old Zahra Billoo, a student at California State University of Northridge.
“It is a great opportunity to give back to our community and help those in much need help.”
For Omar Abdullah, the event was an opportunity for him and all young Muslim volunteers to watch and feel others’ hardships to be thankful to Allah.
“After this event, we (young Muslim volunteers) should appreciate the blessings that Allah granted us with,” he said.
“We have everything, but sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have.”
Such charitable events are usually very appreciated by homeless and needy people who feel thankful that some people around are thinking and caring about them.
“I really like it because they made me feel really good. They upped my spirits,” said a middle-aged, female beneficiary.
Another felt that this event was a gift sent from God.
“This is new to me. I have never been in this situation before. I just lost everything and I’m now trying to pick myself back up,” said the beneficiary.
“And all this is Godsend. And I appreciate it.”
Mahboob, of Islamic Relief, said the homeless are usually full of smiles when they see some people have taken a few hours out of their life to serve them.
“Unfortunately, the homeless population includes families with young children. The kids’ faces are full of happiness when they receive their toys and their mothers feel happy for them too.”
Humanitarian Day event is usually held close to homeless population gatherings.
Most of the people hosted and served in this event are from homeless people and poor families living on the streets.
“It depends on the demographics population of the homeless,” Umar told IOL.
“CPHD focuses on Downtown LA’s homeless population as they are the most impoverished and vulnerable group Southern California.
Mahboob said they try to locate the events close to where the homeless population is based.
“In Los Angeles, it has been taking place on ‘skid row’ in downtown, where many homeless live on the street in the shadow of skyscrapers. In a few other cities, it takes place in shelters or mosques.”
Mahboob said over 1,600 people were served in Los Angeles.
“This day also allows Muslims to show that they are concerned citizens who contribute to society by helping those in need.”