Islamic society’s feed the homeless campaign

By Noorulann Shahid

It’s a chilly evening in Manchester, and I’m waiting with my sister across the road from the Mabel Tylecote building. We are clutching two trays full of warm meat and vegetable pies, and have come to distribute food and drink to some of Manchester’s homeless people.

We are here as part of MMU’s Islamic Society’s weekly “feed the homeless campaign”, which launched in December 2011. They begin arriving in pairs, and politely ask if they can have a pie, and within a matter of minutes, the pies are all gone. We then distribute water, samosas, bowls of pasta and flapjacks to name a few. I was initially anxious as to what to expect, but my fears are quickly dispelled.

I feel a sense of warmth and community spirit, and smile inside at the thought of so many people collaborating for the sake of one cause. Even though the Islamic Society runs the project, the volunteers adopt less of a missionary and more of a humanitarian stance. A woman enquired in almost disbelief: “Are you ok with people of different religions taking your food?” I proceeded to explain to her that it would be ludicrous for us to attempt to restrict giving food to people only within our own faith.

I then ponder the Islamic concept of charity. Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam, and is central to our beliefs and the way Muslims interact with society as a whole. Working adults pay a “charity tax” known as Zakat, which is calculated as 2.5% of annual income. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was poor himself yet always donated what he could to charity. He taught us that simple acts of kindness, such as removing branches from the pavement, or smiling at one another are forms of charity.

I engage in conversation with one of the homeless men. I immediately notice that most of the homeless people here are men. He notices the scarf on my head and asks me if I can make chappatis and if I have a husband. I laugh it off and ask him if the chicken noodle soup the volunteers from the soup kitchen gave him is nice. He replies, “It’s not nice, but, it’s food.”

I begin thinking about how I am able to choose the food I eat for every meal, and do not have to worry about not when I’ll get my next meal. I also ponder the blessing of shelter and that I have somewhere to call home. Some people would argue that the homeless are relatively more “well off” than those starving in East Africa, and to them I’d quote, “charity begins at home, but it doesn’t stay there”.

Homelessness is caused by social exclusion, poverty and addictions amongst other factors, and due to the government’s austerity cuts and anti-squatting laws, the number of homeless people is set to rise across towns and cities in the UK. Those suffering in your own city need your help now more than ever.

I talk to the campaign co-ordinators, Adeel Ahmad and Fatima Kani, and ask them more about the aims of the project. Fatima says, “When I come here every Wednesday I feel lucky in two senses. Firstly because I have been given this invaluable chance to help those who are desperately in need, and also, because it makes me realise how blessed and fortunate I am- for clothes, food, and shelter, and we often take this for granted.”

Adeel elaborates, “This is something the ISOC has wanted to launch for a while now. After attending several events organised by “Manchester with the homeless” during the holy month of Ramadan, I realised the need for a similar event all year round, not just during Ramadan. The overriding objective of this project is community engagement as Islamic tradition prescribes that we take an active role within our communities. The intention of the project is to provide all students on campus with an opportunity to engage and be part of their community and from this it is hoped that they continue this work into their professional lives, I would go as far as to say that the objectives of the project will be achieved when students who participate begin to make decisions based on the impact it will have on their community from how they interact with others to the career choices that they make.”

As the evening draws to a close, I contemplate how lucky so many of us are, and how something as little as warm food, soup, and conversation can bring a smile to someone’s face. As I type this article, and as nightly temperatures plummet and snow begins to fall, I cannot be thankful enough for my warm bed.

The campaign runs every week on Wednesdays at 7:30pm, and the project co-ordinators are now also appealing for clothes to be distributed at the event. If you are not able to participate in the event itself but still want to help, you can leave food or clothing at the Cavendish prayer hall for the volunteers to distribute later in the evening.

For more information, please visit the “Feed the homeless campaign” Facebook page.

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