For 25-year-old Kaltuma Sharif, it’s simply a matter of giving back. But if spending part of a beautiful Saturday afternoon handing out food to the homeless and needy helps shine a positive light on her Muslim faith, that’s OK, too.
“I think it’s important, to go out from your everyday work, school, and take the time to give back to your community,” said Sharif, who took time off from her studies at Yale to come to Baltimore for a convention this weekend sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim American Society. Running through Sunday at the convention center, the annual gathering brought together some 20,000 Muslims for talks, workshops and other discussions aimed at sharing their faith and creating a forum to air their concerns.
“Yesterday, we went to a talk that spoke about character and being the best Muslim we can be,” Sharif said as she helped distribute hot meals and personal hygiene kits to a crowd of mostly men, many of them homeless, gathered outside East Baltimore’s St. Vincent de Paul Church. “That involves service and activism.”
About 60 volunteers, primarily college students, took time out from the convention Saturday afternoon to distribute about 350 hot meals and 350 hygiene kits to people who needed them. Roughly half came to St. Vincent de Paul, while the rest headed for the My Sister’s Place women’s center on Franklin Street, said Ibrahim Abusway, community development coordinator for the Maryland branch of ICNA Relief, a Muslim American charity.
“This is a big part of what we do,” said Abusway. “And it’s part of the way of fulfilling our practice as Muslims and giving back to the community.”
This marks the fourth year the convention has been held in Baltimore, and the fourth time ICNA Relief has sponsored this type of outreach in the city. The first outreach effort here was held shortly after the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
“It’s our faith, this is Islam” said Malika MacDonald, who lives in Boston and serves as director of transitional housing for ICNA Relief. She proposed the outreach effort in 2015, MacDonald said. “Caring for our neighbors and those that are less fortunate — it’s a blessing to be able to do this. This is what we are taught to do.”
Among the volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul, all wearing bright yellow vests emblazoned with the ICNA Relief logo and the phrase “Muslims for Humanity,” was 30-year-old Naila Al Hasan, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her experiences this weekend, she said, have been “rejuvenating.”
“We’re just using our time as energetic youth,” she said with a smile. “We’ve been blessed to have been given a lot of opportunities, and we’re here to give back.”
Ronald Wingate, who said he grew up nearby in the old Lafayette Courts housing project and has been homeless for about three years, was happy for the meal and the kindness these strangers provided.
“It’s wonderful,” he said, a hot meal of chicken and rice resting on his lap. “It shows that people can look beyond color, look to their humanity.”