Muslims volunteer to feed the hungry, fight stereotypes

SHAFAQNA – The Birmingham Islamic Society will join with many other Muslim groups nationwide on Saturday, April 30, to volunteer for National Soup Kitchen Day.

It’s a way to help feed the needy, and to help change the narrative on Islam, said Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society.

“Fighting Islamophobia by words is not as good  as doing it by deeds,” Taufique said.

“We want to show the true spirit of Islam by taking care of those in need.”

In the face of terrorist attacks by extremists claiming to be acting in the name of their faith, Muslims in America are fighting a difficult public relations battle.

In the past, the Birmingham Islamic Society has hosted free clinics in which its doctors and nurses provided health services. Muslims have also organized feeding the poor with a Day of Dignity in Linn Park, which was discontinued due to new city restrictions on feeding the poor in public parks. The Birmingham Islamic Society also cooperates with Greater Birmingham Ministries on food collection and distribution.

“We have been doing it for years, but we have not been publicizing it,” Taufique said. “We want to be fighting hunger in our community. This is our goal.”

About 70 to 80 Muslims in the Birmingham area have signed up for kitchen duty this Saturday.

“Many Islamic centers in many cities will be taking part,” Taufique said. “We have joined a national movement. It’s going on all around the country. It’s quite exciting to be part of that.”

In Birmingham, volunteers will serve in the food lines at Community Kitchen at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Southside and Grace Episcopal Church in Woodlawn for lunch at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, and dinner at 7:30 p.m. at the Firehouse Shelter downtown.

The Muslim community in Birmingham has grown dramatically over the past three decades, from a small group focused on the UAB Muslim Student Association to more than 5,000 Muslims spread throughout the metro area.

“We are slowly but surely getting into the things we should have been doing all along,” Taufique said. “Hopefully now we’ll make a dent.”

The children of Muslim immigrants who have spent their entire lives in the United States have played a prominent role in expanding Muslim social outreach, Taufique said.

“These movements are being started by our younger generation, that does not have baggage like our generation,” Taufique said. “Our children have a different outlook.”

National Muslim Soup Kitchen Day marks a turning point and a new strategy.

“It’s a great feeling – do something good, feel good about it and combat the stereotypical views some Americans have of Islam,” Taufique said.

That won’t stop people who want to spread hatred of Islam, he said.

“I’m not going to worry about what they do,” Taufique said. “I can only control what we do. We’re going to spread love.”

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