Washington — The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is not only a time of fasting, reflection and spirituality for Muslims. It’s also a time to focus on helping the needy.
“A lot of people in the world have no food, no clean water,” said Khalid Iqbal of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS). “Ramadan promotes an understanding of people in need — their sufferings and deprivation.”
With seven branches in northern Virginia, ADAMS is one of the largest mosques and Muslim nonprofit organizations in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, serving more than 5,000 families. Its members regularly engage in interfaith activities and offer assistance to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, said Iqbal, ADAMS deputy director and chief operating officer.
For the past two or three years, ADAMS has been serving a community iftar. Everyone is welcome, regardless of religion. ADAMS members also regularly serve meals at homeless shelters, including every day during Ramadan.
Throughout Ramadan, “every individual — young or old, man or woman — must contribute the equivalent of one full meal” to the needy, said Iqbal. “Last year, it was $10 per person; this year, it’s $12 per person.” Last year, ADAMS members contributed $70,000 during Ramadan to help feed hungry people.
“This year, we want to do more, so we’ve been supplying meals throughout the year” to shelters for the homeless and for battered women in Reston, Fairfax, Herndon and Leesburg, Virginia, he said. Sometimes food is distributed to shelters in Washington and Baltimore, as well. “These meals are for the needy, in general, not just for feeding Muslims,” Iqbal said.
ADAMS members recently held a walk-a-thon for victims of domestic violence and homelessness, he said. “Most people in shelters are single mothers who are victims of abuse. Working with shelters has raised our awareness of these problems,” he added.
The tradition of caring for society’s most vulnerable is deeply ingrained in Islam, said Iqbal. Although Ramadan places a special emphasis on charity, Muslims are required to practice zakat — the religious obligation to perform charity — throughout the year.
“Each year, Muslims are supposed to contribute a minimum of 2½ percent of their savings for charity. Many contribute a lot more than that,” said Iqbal. “We at ADAMS distribute more than $500,000 each year to those in need, and that figure is rising.”
Charitable donations help pay for education and job training, as well. ADAMS has established a computer lab so people can develop new job skills, and offers training for job interviews and résumé writing. “That way, they don’t have to rely on handouts forever,” Iqbal said.
ADAMS also contributes to relief efforts across the country and elsewhere. “One of our sister organizations, called FAITH [Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help], runs a thrift store with proceeds going to charity, which we support. And in recent years, we’ve collected clothing and household items and sent them to Bangladesh, to Haiti, to Japan — and before that, to Indonesia, for tsunami victims, and to Pakistan, to help after natural disasters or where there’s generally a great need.”
Arifa Khalid, an ADAMS volunteer, has been preparing food for distribution to needy people for the past three years. “We make bag lunches and distribute them all year,” she said. “Volunteers deliver food to seniors [elderly people] — anyone, not just Muslims — and to homeless shelters. And we serve hot meals at shelters during holidays, such as Thanksgiving.”
For iftars served at the mosque, Khalid prepares traditional Pakistani chicken and vegetable dishes with rice — “healthy, tasty food with mild spices” — and her husband helps her cook. Her children also get involved whenever their school schedules permit.
Preparing and taking food to the mosque “teaches our children to appreciate what they have,” Khalid said.
The overall experience “is great,” she said. “People feel so good about it.”
Farhanahz Ellis, ADAMS’ interfaith and outreach director, elaborated on ADAMS’ involvement with FAITH. The nonprofit organization has “a wonderful initiative called Herndon Without Hunger,” said Ellis. “They put together food baskets and give them away to people in the community [Herndon, Virginia] who are going through hard times.” ADAMS volunteers purchase basic food staples and recipients pick up the baskets at FAITH’s headquarters.
“We work with local food banks and soup kitchens, too,” said Ellis. “Also, ADAMS’ Girl Scout troops put together packages of items for babies — called ‘Baby Bundles’ — to distribute to needy families with children under 2 years of age, whether Muslim or not.” The packages contain formula, diapers, wipes, baby clothes and toys.
During Ramadan, which begins in July this year, “donations are increased, so we can even help a little bit more than usual,” she said.
At Ramadan and toward the beginning of winter, ADAMS’ youth volunteers collect clothing and toiletries to deliver to shelters and needy people in Washington.
“We believe that need has no religion, no gender, no color,” said Ellis.