Ramadan a time to aid the needy - Islamic Relief USA

By Kyung M. Song

The Seattle Times

September 30, 2007

Islam commands its followers to give alms, called Zakat, equal to 2.5 percent of their income. Saturday, during their religion’s holiest month, some area Muslims were prepared to give generously to the region’s homeless people.

But before the day was out, they had to go looking for people in need.

Seattle was among 22 cities nationwide taking part in the annual “Humanitarian Day” for the homeless, billed as the largest collective Muslim charitable event during Ramadan.

This is the first year Seattle participated in the effort, which began in 2000 in Los Angeles.

Muslim students and other volunteers in Seattle had raised nearly $20,000 to buy items most requested in a survey of those who live on the streets.

Shortly after 11 a.m., a stream of men and a few women who showed up at The Millionair Club on Seattle’s Western Avenue loaded up on new towels and washcloths, tube socks, bags of toiletries, reflective emergency blankets and rain ponchos — in a choice of four colors — among other items, as well as food.

Issaac Scott IV, 37, said he takes seriously Islam’s command to give to the poor. Most non-Muslims don’t know about it, Scott believes, and he was glad to see a more public show of charity during Ramadan. Muslims “help a lot, but … behind the scenes,” said Scott, a sometime personal trainer and remodeler living in Seattle.

In the rear of the Millionair building Saturday morning, a group of UW medical students checked blood pressures and glucose levels and examined patients for asthma, bronchitis, skin problems and other ailments. One man said it was his first checkup in 20 years. The students handed out medical pamphlets and referred those who needed follow-up care to a walk-in clinic at Harborview Medical Center.

As organizers had expected, the line of visitors slowed to a trickle after barely an hour at the Millionair Club, with many of the 300 bags of supplies unclaimed, and a few future doctors temporarily idle.

Muslims from the Seattle area prepare packets for the homeless, which include food, rain ponchos, first-aid kits, hygiene kits, emergency blankets, washcloths, hats and socks. Spreading the word among those who live transient lives isn’t easy, said Aziz Junejo, host of a cable-TV show on Islam who also writes a column for The Seattle Times.

So volunteers loaded remaining bags in a van to deliver them to potential recipients, including those who congregate near the King County Courthouse.

After exit interviews with people who had picked up supplies, Junejo said, organizers are already thinking about adding optional clothing and sleeping bags next year.

The efforts, Junejo said, will bring “extra reward from God.”

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