An Islamic Circle chapter hands out school supplies in charity drive that coincides with its 'Why Islam?' campaign to educate people about the faith.
Ramadan gifts timely during US downturn
NEW YORK // The lure of school supplies being given away free by a US Muslim group led to a long queue of eager children and parents waiting in a light summer rain outside the Andalusia school in Yonkers, a few miles north of New York City, last Saturday morning. The vast majority of the few hundred families who turned up were not Muslim, but they were still eligible to receive bags filled with school stationery from the Islamic Circle of North America. The non-profit advocacy group organised the charity event to mark Ramadan. The US public school year opens Tuesday amid a serious economic downturn that has left families struggling to cope. "Alhamdulillah [praise be to Allah] so many people have turned up," said Hussain Rababah, a Jordanian-born Muslim who is on the board of the New York chapter of the Islamic Circle. "This will help to show the community that we're just people like them and we want to help kids of every background." Muslim groups across the United States have organised a number of events during this year's Ramadan, including giving away food parcels, and holding prayer meetings and public iftars. The increased profile of US Muslims shows a growing confidence in engagement with the rest of US society, in contrast to the fear and caution felt in the months after the September 11 attacks, said Omar Ranginwala, who helped to organise the free school supplies in Yonkers. "Events like this help people to understand who we are as Muslims and to improve our image," he said. "It's one of our duties as Muslims, even as human beings, to give to charity and help others." The charity drive was necessary to support fellow New Yorkers in these "times of hardship regardless of faith, race and nationality", he said. It also coincided with the next phase of the Islamic Circle's "Why Islam?" public campaign, which has run in several US cities during the past year. In New York this month, advertisements on buses will show such questions as "Why Ramadan?" or "Who's Allah?" and direct people to a website that answers questions about the religion. Inside the Andalusia school gymnasium, women dressed in hijabs stood behind trestle tables and distributed the bags, which contained notebooks, pencils, pens, erasers and sharpeners. Each had cost the group a wholesale price of US$10. Within the first half-hour, most of the 350 bags were gone. Eddie Santiago, 39, came for school supplies with his two sons, Anthony, 13, and Kenny, 12. The former airport maintenance manager has been unemployed since November and the family survives on the salary of his wife, a school bus driver. When told that a Muslim group was responsible for the giveaway, he said: "I'm surprised, but there's no doubt there's a need for charity in these hard times." Shantal Metz brought her son, who is seven, and two of his cousins after hearing about the free school bags from the social services department. She is a Baptist Christian but knew a little about Islam because some of her family members are Muslim. Although she has a job in marketing, money was tight. "These school bags will help enormously," she said. Sandy Annabi, whose parents were from Jordan and who serves as the majority leader of the Yonkers city council, thanked the Islamic Circle and spoke of New York's "melting pot" in a speech to the waiting crowd at the Andalusia school. There are at least four mosques in the Yonkers area and community relations were good, Mr Ranginwala said. But some local Muslims did question whether the group should be trying to help non-Muslims when so many of their own were facing financial difficulties. "Muslims treat other Muslims as their own brothers and sisters and try to help them first," he said. "But if you're a true believer, you cannot ignore any people and through your actions you try to do good and prevent evil." firstname.lastname@example.org