Streetwise: Charitable Activism – Essential in Islam

Due to popular misconceptions, there are many negative connotations that are often associated with the Arabic word jihad; in its true meaning however, it is a constructive term meaning to struggle or strive towards betterment. One of the most important types of jihad is the daily struggle we each must face against our own personal demons.

Muslims are instructed to be proactive in the defense of truth and justice, and to be contributive to the advancement of any society in which they live. It is written in God’s Holy Book, The Qur?n, that “Whosoever recommends and helps in a good cause becomes a partner therein: And whosoever recommends and helps in an evil cause, shares in its burdens and Allah hath the power over all things” (Qur?n 4:85)

Islam requires that Muslims give a percentage of their income to the needy as a form of worship. It is as important as prayer, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and venturing on the once-in-a-lifetime religious pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj). God states in the Holy Qur?n, “Woe then unto those praying ones whose hearts from their prayers are remote – those who want only to be seen and praised, and, withal, deny all assistance [to their fellowmen]”( Qur?n 107:4-7). According to the Qur?n, those who are the most important to support through financial means are the poor, orphans, and widows.

Zakat, an Arabic word meaning to cleanse or purify (the soul), is the mandatory act of giving money or goods to the poor if one is financially able. Zakat is supposed to help those in need and to purify one’s self and one’s wealth by averting greed and selfishness. Ultimately, in practice, Zakat is also used as a way of social balance, as it attempts to free society of contempt and envy between classes.

Aside from giving money, Muslims are also encouraged to help communities with all that they have. This can be achieved through volunteering one’s time, spreading knowledge, or demanding accountability in government to name a few. Any good deed can be charity, the prophet Muhammad once said, “give charity even if it be a smile.”

Muslims in communities around Chicago and other major metropolitan cities are active in helping those in need through various methods. The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) is active in giving back to the community through supporting events such as fundraising and canned food drives. In August 2005 CIOGC helped conduct a canned food drive through the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Northern Illinois Food Bank. The Chicago Muslim community was able to provide at least 22, 678 meals. Through the same project the Muslim community’s online food drive collected $4, 084 which will also go to providing meals for families.

CIOGC’s chairman, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid says that as a Muslim, it is his duty to personally serve those in need. “But this extends beyond giving money and collecting donations. It also means that I encourage and work for policies that will alleviate poverty in the long-term” he adds.

According to Imam Malik, a recent report on hunger in the United States noted that one million more people are now living below the poverty line. This is in addition to the 37 million Americans who were already in that category. “Hunger is not just about statistics. The horrific ordeal of those who survived Hurricane Katrina has shown us the human face of this,” Imam Malik says. “Hunger is a moral issue we must all confront on an individual and collective level by working for an agenda that will eliminate it. We must all do what we can to ensure that not one child, woman or man goes to bed hungry at night.”

“Community activism is an organic, integral part of Islam”, says Rami Nashashibi, the Executive Director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). Rami believes that giving back to the community should not be a choice, rather it should merely be an extension of being human.

IMAN is a non-profit organization also active in initiating community projects within the Chicagoland area. They work with different communities in Chicago to help better conditions that cause suffering within the inner-city. Mentoring, providing free health services and running a local food pantry weekly are a few of the charitable activities IMAN is involved in. They are also known for their Takin’ it to the Streets project, in which people of all faiths, class, and cultures are invited to Marquette Park to participate in a day-long event consisting of live music, sports, and forums on Islamic and social issues.

Chicago university campuses are havens to community and charitable activism, the Muslim Student Association (MSA) on each campus is well known for its efforts in helping the community on and off campus with the time, talents and knowledge of its members. The MSA is involved in yearly projects such as donation drives, blood drives, book drives, various fundraising projects, and motivational speaking events.

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) also initiates activities aimed at helping different communities within Chicago. Along with CAIR-NationalCAIR-Chicago recently assisted in the Muslims Care campaign. Under the campaign, the month of June was dedicated to health awareness in which blood drives were carried out in affiliation with different mosques in the area. The month of July was devoted to helping the homeless by contributingCAIR-Chicago volunteers to Hilda’s Place, an Evanston-based food shelter. CAIR-Chicago is in the process of recruiting community service interns to expand its assistance to the needy.

Dina Rehabthe Outreach Coordinator at CAIR-Chicago, believes that Muslims must contribute constructively to any society in which they live. “Ultimately, Islam is all about building, whether it is building a physical home for a homeless person or building the confidence and hope of a broken soul,” Dina said. “CAIR-Chicago’s programs are a manifestation of the compassionate Islamic spirit that inspires us to give selflessly to those who are in need of our assistance and our care. Our volunteer program brings in students from all walks of life and empowers them with the resources necessary to empower others,” she added.

Muslims believe that God has blessed our planet with sufficient resources to cover the basic needs of all humanity. He has blessed many of us with enough wealth along side the responsibility to give back to society. It is the duty of Muslims to find the right outlet available to them to contribute to the betterment of their communities. “Is there any other way to be Muslim?” Nashashibi asks.

Nadia Sulayman
Communications Department
CAIR-Chicago

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