Chicago Muslims fight hunger for Ramadan

By Meha Ahmad

With the start of September this year comes the start of Ramadan for Muslims, the month of fasting and charity. In the spirit of this holy month, Islamic organizations around the city are reaching out to fight hunger.

With the downturn in the economy and the rise in food prices, many food pantries are seeing a decline in donations. In response, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago,  231 S. State St.,  is partnering with the Greater Chicago Food Depository, 4100 W. Ann Lurie Place, and asking local mosques, anti-hunger institutions and food pantries to join the Unite to Fight Hunger campaign.

The kick-off event for the campaign, starting the first week of September, is a citywide food drive in honor of Ramadan.

The campaign, the first of its kind for the Council, will give the food drive’s donations to the Chicago Food Depository.

“Our goal is to give the Muslim community the opportunity to get involved to fight hunger in our communities,” said Junaid Afeef, the director of public and government affairs at the Council.

Afeef said they want the spiritual environment of Ramadan to encourage the Muslim community to better understand the issue of hunger in Chicago.

Ausaf Farooqi, the drive’s development director, said although the large-scale drive is in honor of Ramadan, it’s just one component of a year-long, sustainable campaign the Council plans to develop.

“We don’t want this to be a one-time deal,” Farooqi said. “Hunger is something that affects people … year round, not just [during] one month.”

The month of Ramadan, which began Sept. 1, is a time when Muslims fast from food and drink from dawn to dusk. The goal is to feel hunger with the poverty-stricken and deepen appreciation for what one has. Muslims are encouraged to give charity to the poor as much as possible in this month.

Farooqi said feeding the hungry is part  of the Muslim faith.

“It’s a form of charity, a form of worship,” he said. “It’s a method of putting your faith into action.”

But food isn’t the only thing the Council is looking to collect. It’s also trying to raise money for the much smaller food pantries, Afeef said.

“It is more effective for them in their operation to have the financial resources to be able to tap into regional food banks so they can purchase food as needed and when needed,” Afeef said.

The Council has a history with the Chicago Food Depository, having conducted food drives with them in the past, but Depository officials seem more enthusiastic about this drive in particular.

“The [Council] is really putting a lot of their weight behind this drive,” said Andy Christiansen, the Chicago Food Depository’s cause-related marketing manager.  “We have worked with each other in many food drives in the past, but I don’t think we’ve done a citywide drive of this nature before.”

To carry out the campaign, the Council, which needs more than 50 volunteers, has recruited local colleges’ Muslim Student Association members.

Amal Ali, the senior youth coordinator for the Council, said she has heard back from several student groups, including the Muslim Student Associations at Loyola University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and Columbia, all of whom are interested in volunteering. She said she hopes the students—not just the poor—will benefit from participating in the campaign.

“I think it’s an opportunity for them to be involved in something that is meaningful and something that I know people of their age group will have a lot of motivation and zeal for,” Ali said.

The Council currently has no set goal of how much donations they hope to receive but expect the drive to be successful enough to continue after Ramadan.