Muslim 'Day of Dignity' observed in Baltimore

Under a printed head scarf and the warm sun, Candice Abdal-Rahim served hundreds of strangers food and drink that she could not sample until sundown.

She was observing the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by fasting and performing an act of charity at the annual Day of Dignity, a national effort organized by Islamic Relief and the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Serving others "makes the day go quicker," said Abdal-Rahim, a city schools administrator.

This was the fifth year the Day of Dignity, marked in 22 cities over 10 different weekends, was observed in Baltimore. And this year, it came amid a national debate over a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks.

The imam who organized the event in Baltimore brought up the controversy in an interview — he believes the Muslims in New York have been treated unjustly in the matter — but he said that had no bearing on the Day of Dignity.

"It is what it is in New York," said Imam Hassan Amin, the Islamic chaplain at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "We're not letting that deter us from doing good. … We're concentrating on the work we're mandated to do — that any religious person is mandated to do — to help the poor."

The event took place in Upton, outside the Masjid Ul-Haqq on a stretch of Wilson Street renamed Islamic Way. There, participants dished up spaghetti and garlic bread, handed out school supplies, toiletries, socks and T-shirts, and provided health screenings to at least 800 people.

The Mormon Church donated some of the school supplies and all of the hygiene kits. While interfaith charity efforts are not uncommon, the Muslim-Mormon team catches some people by surprise, Amin said.

"Strange but true," he said with a smile.

Unlikely interfaith pairings and Ground Zero politics were not on the minds of Upton residents drawn to the event. Some were not even familiar with the mosque that's been in the neighborhood since 1958.

"I'm not a religious person, period," Bessie Land, 73, said as she stepped up to the tables where food was being given away. Land, who lives around the corner, was simply seeking lunch for her three great-grandchildren.

Paula Easton, by contrast, attended last year and chose that moment to make her Muslim declaration of faith, or shahaadah.

"I had always wanted to," said Easton, 60, whose husband converted in the 1960s. "And I said, 'Let me just do it and stop talking about it.'"

She was back this year for food and other goodies.

"We have a lot of people who come every year," said Zakia Amin, the wife of the imam. "They say, 'We're back.' And we're, like, 'OK, we're here.'"

While Upton welcomed the help, Muslims and neighborhood residents alike were frustrated by the limits of what could be done in a day.

Asma Hanif, a nurse practitioner, said she'd taken the blood pressure of about 100 people by early afternoon. All but two had high blood pressure. One of those with high blood pressure was Ronald Todd. But it was hardly news to the unemployed 50-year-old.

Headaches and blurred vision told him long ago that he needed medication, but he can't afford it. He has not been able to make his way through government bureaucracies to get medical assistance. Hanif suggested he see a doctor, but knew that might not happen. So she also advised him to stay out of the sun, lay off fried and salty foods and not exert himself.

Todd left the event knowing he needed more than that advice, but he still appreciated it.

"They come and take time out for us poor," he said. "They probably could be doing anything."

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