A Muslim reflection on Thanksgiving and charity in the holiday season

November 28, 2012

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is the Director of Outreach at the Dar Al-Hijrah Community Center in Falls Church.

A few days ago I got a text from a member of my congregation after our mosque sent out a message to the community that we were distributing food baskets to needy families.  He wanted to know do “Muslims in America celebrate Thanksgiving”?

I shared with him that the prophet Muhammad said, “You are not a believer, if you go to bed with your stomach full and your neighbors are hungry.”

In another citation the prophet said,“Gabriel has continued to recommend me so strongly the care for my neighbor until I thought that he would make him among my heirs.”

Thanksgiving has become our “non-religious” day of feeding and our national day for family dinners. Yet, we have thousands of our neighbors who are in need.  

My community usually walks in The Fannie-Mae “Walk-for-the-Homeless.”  This year is the first time it will not take place on The Mall. But, thanks to National Public Radio's coverage of National Homelessness Awareness Week we all heard some true life stories of our homeless, hungry and often invisible neighbors.  Some of the stories broke my heart. These campaigns bring a tremendous awareness to an ever-increasing problem of hunger and poverty in our nation. I began to feel guilty that I have been blessed but that I have not done enough. But, I thank God I'm able to do something about it.  

Soon after 9/11 a challenge was taken up by Rev. Graylan Hagler, UCC Plymouth Congregational Church, and I to compete in volunteering at the Homeless Women's Dinner Program. Since that time our congregations continue to volunteer preparing and serving dinners nightly to homeless women during Ramadan. My wife and other women have taught yoga and many other mosques, Muslim schools and individuals have found a way to help.

One person really can make a difference.  The outreach liaison for Fairfax County, Sandy Chisholm, called the mosque and asked if we could house homeless women from the Bailey’s Shelter a few nights a week. The Board of Trustees said let's try it.  After five years in partnership with the county and Volunteers Of America, homeless women regardless of their faith, spend their winter nights in a mosque. It was easy. They come during the night prayer and leave after the morning prayer.

My challenge to people of faith or conviction is to open your mosques, churches, synagogues or temples to the homeless as often as they can.  

There is more that we can do if we just reach out to our neighbor and get face-to-face with their convictions and ask them to do what they can do.  America owes much to the native peoples for their sacrifice, their loss and their outreach even to the pilgrims coming as settlers to their land.  But the native peoples understood the principle of giving and from that spirit the pilgrims survived. 

The Quran teaches,“You will never attain righteousness until you give/spend from what you love. . ..”Ali-Imran (4:92)-The Family of Imran.

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