Collecting Food, Fostering Solidarity
Md. Muslim Volunteers Gather Tons of Goods for Area Pantries
By Nurith C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 15, 2003
The fliers distributed to more than 30,000 Maryland homes by Muslim civic groups across the Washington region last weekend contained a simple plea for non-perishable goods for an upcoming food drive. But the Muslim volunteers who circled through their communities to pick up contributions yesterday said they hoped their neighbors had also gotten the unwritten message: "We are one of you. We want to be a part of this country," said Ellicott City pediatrician Naseem Khan. Like many of the several hundred participants, Khan said her involvement in the food drive was largely a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Suddenly you realize that the impact of that act was reflected on Muslims at large," she said. Now, she added, "it's like a drive in me" to make clear just how contrary the attacks were to the principles of Islam. The most effective way for Muslims to do that is to get more involved in their communities, said Anwer Hasan, president of the Howard County Muslim Foundation and an organizer of the drive. "Actions speak louder than words," he noted. "And when you reach out to your neighbors, they see you as a mainstream person who believes in giving to the needy and helping to build a stronger America."
Initiated last year by the Howard County Muslim Foundation, the food drive was also held yesterday by related groups in Baltimore city and Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties. Members brought the contributions they collected to festive picnics in each county, where they mingled with friends and a host of political leaders, including Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) at the Germantown picnic, and Howard County Executive James N. Robey (D) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) at the Ellicott City event. By early evening, organizers estimated that volunteers had collected more than 22,000 pounds of supplies for local food banks. Irfan Malik, a member of the Howard group, said the foundations had chosen to do the food drive in mid-September because food banks, which tend to receive most of their contributions during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, often run low on supplies this time of year. But early yesterday, as Malik and his two teenage sons drove through Ellicott City past house after house festooned with American flags, he said it also seemed appropriate to be holding the event just three days after the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Like Malik, a telecommunications engineer, many of the Howard Muslim foundation's members are foreign-born professionals who became U.S. citizens years ago. Wearing a polo shirt and seated behind the wheel of his dark blue Chevrolet Suburban van, Malik looked the picture of a suburban American dad. And he said that participating in local charities had been a milestone in his journey from immigrant to American. "As immigrants, our first focus was on sending help to our native countries," he said. "But now we're getting to the point where we're saying, 'Okay, that's good to do, but let's also start doing stuff to help here' " [in the United States].