Bay Area Muslims Took on Hunger this Ramadan

By Ameena Jandali, Content Manager

Inspired by a call by the local PICO chapter, People Acting in Community Together (PACT), for each religious community to take up a social justice issue this year, ING volunteered to address the persistent problem of hunger this Ramadan, since one of the major lessons of the month is a greater awareness of the dual blessings of food and drink which we often take for granted.

A fasting person who feels the pangs of hunger is much more likely to relate to this problem that, despite our advances in wealth and technology, is still widespread in the world. Muslims are encouraged to be especially generous during this holy month, and to share food and charity with those in need.

In preparation for this campaign we did a little research and were shocked to learn that in spite of advances in agriculture and food preservation, eleven percent of the world’s population — a total of 830 million people — currently suffer from hunger. In the U.S., one of the most affluent countries on the planet, the hunger rate is actually higher than the world rate, at 12.7% — which means that a total of 41.5 million Americans suffer from hunger. Here in California, with the fifth largest economy in the world, the hunger rate is also higher than the global average, at 12.3%, which comes to almost five million people out of a total state population of nearly 40 million. At the same time, up to 40% of food is wasted in the United States.

Educating Bay Area Muslim American Communities on the Problem

We decided to focus not only on feeding those in need but also on educating the Muslim American community about the dual problems of hunger and food waste. All religions teach the importance of feeding the hungry, and Islam is no exception. One of the most famous among the many prophetic sayings and Qur’anic verses on the topic is the saying, “He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while his neighbor goes hungry.” Islamic scripture also has many injunctions against wasting food, including the Qur’anic verse, “O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer: eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for God does not love the wasters.” (Qur’an, 7:31)

We laid out these scriptural teachings as well as practical steps to combat hunger and food waste in documents that mosque leaders could download and hand out to their congregations, one on the issue of hunger and the other on avoiding both food and utensil waste in Ramadan. We also asked mosques to include the issues of hunger and waste in their Friday sermons, using the documents as a basis. Some of the practical steps we proposed included donating goods to local food drives both in and outside the mosque and to local charities such as Rahima Foundation, which has been serving the needy for twenty-five years. We also listed seventeen interfaith fast-breaking iftar dinners hosted by Bay Area mosques and other organizations which people could attend and invite friends to, and we encouraged hosting organizations to address the issue of hunger and waste at their events and pass out our flyers on the topic.

Bay Area Muslim Communities Address Hunger

We are happy to report that all of the organizations accomplished what we had hoped for and that some went above and beyond our expectations. One of the first interfaith iftar dinners took place the first week of Ramadan at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland, which was attended to by 250 people. The mosque chairman, Dr. Payman Amiri, gave a mini-presentation about hunger and food wastage and described some of the other efforts relating to hunger that the mosque was involved in, which he said will now become regular practices. The two interfaith speakers, a pastor and a rabbi, also gave their perspectives on hunger and both expressed their gratitude that Muslims were addressing this important issue. The mosque also followed some of our practical guidelines, including serving the dinner in recycled paperware in small portions and inviting people who wanted more to come back for seconds rather than handing out large portions at the outset that often went to waste.

The San Ramon Valley Islamic Center (SRVIC) put ING’s flyers about hunger on each table at their interfaith iftar dinner. They also held a community iftar dinner in Livermore, where they filled up a truck with donations for the poor and needy. Their 16th Annual Ramadan Food Drive called on members to donate to a “Feed A Family Ramadan Food Drive” that could feed a family of 4 for an entire day for just $5 or for an entire month for $150. The SRVIC encouraged the community to donate non-perishable food items collected in barrels at the mosque to feed the needy in Contra Costa County.

The nearby Muslim Community Center and the Islamic Center of Zahra, both in Pleasanton, are collecting food to deliver to the Alameda Food Bank at the end of Ramadan. In Oakland, the Lighthouse Mosque has long engaged in monthly food distribution in the area.

The South Bay Islamic Association’s (SBIA) interfaith iftar dinner featured speakers from the San Jose Catholic Diocese and Catholic Charities, including Bishop McGrath, who gave a talk on how Catholic communities are addressing hunger in the Valley and encouraging Muslim participation. The Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara held a Harvest Food Bank drive to collect non-perishable food items.

For the last fifteen years the Rahima Foundation has been holding “Human Dignity Day” every Ramadan for the homeless population in San Jose. They provide a hot lunch, hygiene packs, socks, and T-shirts to everyone who attends. Their inspiring work to help reduce hunger was rewarded recently by an incredible gesture. The founder, Habibe Husain, describes opening the mail at their office recently to find a letter and a check from the head of the San Quentin Prison, saying the inmates in the prison had a food sale to raise money to be given to Rahima Foundation. Amazingly, they had raised over $1200! All the Rahima office team was very touched by this wonderful gesture.

We are pleased that this campaign both highlighted the wonderful work that was already being done by Bay Area organizations and mosques and served as a catalyst for new efforts to address the twin problems of hunger and food waste. We hope that this is just a beginning of what will become an annual tradition of Bay Area Muslim communities celebrating Ramadan by remembering and helping those in need.