Muslim relief organizations help to alleviate local hunger

Syed Rizvi

Editor’s Note: “Peace be upon him” (abbreviated “pbuh”) is a salutation for the prophets of Islam. Who receives salutations depends on the school of thought. It is a mandatory practice per the Quran and hadiths.

One out of every six people in the United States endures a palpable struggle with hunger. This translates to nearly 54 million hungry Americans; of that, 15.9 million children live in food-insecure households.  Applying this statistic to the Texas Department of State Health Services 2014 population projection, there are 330,000 hungry in the Austin-Round Rock region, and probably more since Texas has one of the highest rates of hunger in America. It goes without saying that malnourishment can hinder mental and physical development, thus it is a detriment to our economy as well as to our principles as a value-based country.  Hunger is a tragedy that scars this land of the free and diminishes the American promise of the brave. 

That being said, Americans from various backgrounds are continuing the fight against hunger. As members of the American community, Muslims are no exception. Today marks the start of Hunger Awareness Week, an annual week of events where the United Muslim Relief chapter at the University of Texas at Austin seeks to increase awareness about hunger in the local community and abroad. The week includes various types of events including a rally, a movie screening and even a keynote by regional Red Cross CEO Marty McKellips. Another aspect of the week is the ongoing canned food drive dubbed “CANpaign.” UMR partners with the Capital Area Food Bank as its benefactor; last year, UMR was able to donate around 570 cans. In fact, UMR has a long-standing relationship with the Capital Area Food Bank, where UMR members volunteer often. 

The week of events will end with “Project Downtown,” an event where members gather to make sack lunches. Then, together, they distribute the food and water to the homeless in downtown Austin. This project is also a regular event hosted roughly six times a year. Last year, UMR distributed roughly 300 sack lunches per Project Downtown. Beyond the numbers, what really makes this experience life-changing is the act of distribution. Members talk and interact with the homeless. Learning about their lives or just how they are doing that day humanizes them. After all, as some members of the UT community forget all too often, they are human, something we tend to forget while walking down the Drag. 

The hunger cause comes second nature to Muslims, just as any cause against injustice. As Muslims, who fast for the month of Ramadan, we are reminded every year of the importance of providing for the less fortunate. Since charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, being a Muslim means being charitable, especially since Islam is unique in its specific dictation of how to live one’s life. Muslims are taught that charity has a broad meaning encompassing the charity of money, of character, and in this context, feeding the hungry. The extent of compassion extends beyond just humans as well. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once stopped his preparation for prayers and provided water to a cat until the cat’s thirst was quenched. The importance of this story can only be fully realized when you consider the fact that Islam is very strict about starting your prayers on time, and leaves little cause for one to neglect the practice.  Furthermore, the Qur’an is explicit in the importance and commandment of feeding the hungry.

“And they [the God-conscious] give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive.”

Among the most famous Muslim relief organizations out there, Helping Hands stands out, exemplifying the aforementioned ideals. Charity Navigator awarded this charity its highest rating, four stars. In comparison, Red Cross only received three stars. Last year, Helping Hands spent over 20 million for their program services, including everything from education and health to community development and family support. 

Struggles present us with opportunities to do something great. If there weren’t fear then what would courage be? And if there wasn’t evil then what would good be? Believe it or not, feeding the homeless takes courage. It takes courage to accept the dark realities and the responsibilities associated with them. Struggles present opportunities for us to come together and do good despite our differences. As Muslims continue their struggle to illuminate the darkness of ISIS and the like, I will end with this quote from Asif Moosani, economics senior and president of the UMR chapter at UT.

“An act of charity forges fraternity between strangers and community between enemies.”

Rizvi is a government senior from Chicago.