You know, I know, anyone who reads a newspaper knows: Muslims have become the B.O.M. – Bogeyman of the Moment – in America, with each nefarious act committed by a professed worshipper of Islam used to tarnish and attack the faith itself and everyone who practices it.
Who, then, could be surprised that some Muslims see it as a personal mission to refute the notion that their religion is one that encourages blowing up airports and shooting up nightclubs, among other dastardly deeds?
When interviewing Greg Rashad, imam of the Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center in Durham, the easiest question to ask in the world would’ve been, “Is your recent Ramadan food drive an effort to counter the negative Muslim images that dominate the news these days?”
It would’ve also been the dumbest question.
As a Durham resident for more than two decades, I know how integral the mosque is to the community, have seen people lined up outside to get food. The mosque, which Rashad said is the oldest in North Carolina, has been feeding needy residents for decades.
“As quiet as it is kept, we’ve been working with Durham and the surrounding communities since the early ’70s,” he said. “West Chapel Hill Street has changed so much in recent years. A lot of the people we serve have gotten older and you don’t get that walk-in traffic, so we’ve started taking the meals out to the shelter or to the senior citizens’ homes. We have a summer feeding program going on, where we’re feeding over 1,000 children per day.”
During the holy month of Ramadan, Rashad said, Muslims fast 16 hours per day. “We’re usually done eating by 4:30 a.m., and we don’t eat again until about 8:30 p.m.”
As someone who has been hungry – and as someone who has simply been a glutton – I asked whether there’s a difference between not eating for religious reasons or because you’re full from eating two whole rows of Fig Newtons, and not eating because your cupboard is bare.
“There is,” Rashad conceded. “We fast because it’s an obligation for us during the month of Ramadan. While we’re fasting, though, it brings to mind those who have to go through that involuntarily. We get to fast for 29, 30 days. They have to fast, many times, all year long. The whole purpose (of the food drive) is to bring us closer, regardless of religion, nationality or ethnicity. The folks in the community need our help.”
They do, indeed. Although the neighborhood is gentrifying – one resident said a recently opened food co-op has earned from longtime residents the derisive nickname “Whole Paycheck Jr.” because of its unco-oplike prices – it still has many residents who look as though they are not strangers to hunger. Rashad said the mosque’s goal is to deliver to the Food Bank, by the time the food drive ends next Friday, enough food to feed 100 families.
Jennifer Caslin, spokeswoman for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, said the mosque has been working with it for “quite a few years now” and hopes to donate at least 500 pounds of food with the current drive.
When we’re taking food out into the community, no one has ever asked, ‘Did that food come from a mosque or a church?’ They’re just happy to get a meal.
Greg Rashad, imam of the Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center in Durham
If you want to donate food, the mosque is at 1009 W. Chapel Hill St. in Durham.
Residents who receive the cooked meals the mosque delivers – meals usually consisting of spaghetti or baked chicken, two vegetables and a dessert – are appreciative, Rashad said.
“When we’re taking food out into the community,” he said, “no one has ever asked, ‘Did that food come from a mosque or a church?’ They’re just happy to get a meal.”
I know all about being happy to get a meal, and how grateful you are to whoever helps smooth the wrinkles in your belly. One day when I was in college, the father of my college pal, Vandy, came to Atlanta for homecoming and took him grocery shopping. I tagged along, figuring that even though I couldn’t afford anything, at least I could walk the supermarket aisles and smell food.
“You want something to eat?” his dad asked while his son filled his cart.
Being well-raised, of course I said “No, thank you,” even though my belly was bellowing “Man, are you crazy?”
Mr. Jamison, though, apparently heard my stomach or saw the hunger in my eyes and said, “Boy, go get you something to eat.”
The loaf of bread and jar each of peanut butter and jelly he bought me that day nourished me for a few days. More importantly, his kindness toward my hungry self nourished my soul and remains one of the most unforgettably nice things anyone has ever done for me. I’ll never forget it.
Want to bet that some of the people being fed by the Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center on West Chapel Hill Street, some of whom may not otherwise know from where their next baked chicken leg is coming, feel the same way about Muslims – regardless of what they see on TV or read in the newspaper?