Not even the recent furlough of federal workers was enough to snuff out the latest community outreach effort of Masjid al Islam mosque in Dallas.
On a weekend in early October, the mosque was participating in a national initiative known as the Day of Dignity, an annual event during which mosques feed, clothe, and equip people living in poverty. But federal workers who had been scheduled to attend to speak about the details of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) healthcare legislation had been forced to cancel because of a partial federal government shutdown.
It was a blow to the mosque's boosters, says Muhammad Abdul-Jami, treasurer of Masjid al Islam and coordinator of the Day of Dignity event. But it didn't deter them from pursuing the same purpose they have had for the last several years, he says: aiding homeless people who are living right under the eyes of mosque attendees.
Masjid al Islam is in, an area where the homeless are a ubiquitous sight. The Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas point to statistics showing that 23 percent of people living in Dallas County have incomes under the federal poverty line – compared with 17 percent across the state of Texas and 14.3 percent nationally.
Because of the great need every weekend the mosque seeks to do what the Day of Dignity event, organized in conjunction with the national charity Islamic Relief USA, does on an annual basis. Through its Beacon of Light community center, Masjid al Islam feeds approximately 300 individuals in need on Saturdays and Sundays each week, Mr. Abdul-Jami estimates. That’s more than 15,000 meals per year, paid for with donations from individuals and other mosques and served by volunteers, he says.
“It was borne out of a need because our area is poverty stricken; there are homeless shelters in the area, there are people sleeping under bridges, and so on,” he says.
For some, local governments aren't doing enough to help the homeless. So, as in other cities and towns nationwide, religious institutions here step in to aid those who have fallen through society’s cracks.
Churches regularly feed the homeless on Sundays after services. Masjid al Islam mosque also sees helping in this way as its duty.
“I believe the onus is on the citizens and the community to decide whether we want our elected officials to do more,” Abdul-Jami says. “Left to their own devices, they are not going to make it a priority. We are trying to do that. This is something we can do on our own.”
That’s where the aim of the Day of Dignity event coincides with that of Masjid al Islam’s outreach program.
“We want to encourage volunteerism, to get people to be active and do something to help their fellow human beings,” Abdul-Jami says.
The mosque's outreach events also do no harm to the image of Islam, which often attracts more negative headlines than positive, he concedes.
“There are millions of Muslims in this country who are very regular people, people who [other] Americans might consider much like them,” Abdul-Jami says. “They have jobs, families, and similar concerns, hopes, and experiences.
“These events help us showcase that we are concerned about the rest of humanity, not just wanting to help Muslims.
"In fact, we mostly help non-Muslims," he says. "And we work with other agencies, nonreligious and nonprofits, to reach out because we all have a similar concern: We want to see relief for those who have the strongest need.”