Originally published in The Tribune-Review
“Mom, don’t leave. It’s too dangerous.”
“If I don’t,” my mother replies, “my children will starve.”
“I’m your child,” I respond.
“So are they,” she says.
I have had this debate with my mother for more than a month. Deemed an essential worker, my 61-year old mother leaves her house every day and takes the bus to work — so she can prepare meals for New York City’s impoverished youth. Despite my incessant pleas for her to take her vacation days, to stop risking her life by contracting covid-19, she’s committed to making sure some of New York City’s 300,000-plus poverty-stricken school children don’t go hungry.
Sadly, the kids she feeds are just a microcosm of a problem 37 million other Americans face. Compounded by the highest unemployment rate America has seen since the Great Depression, the risk of a global food shortage, and the rising cost of bare necessities, millions of Americans are wondering when — or if — their next meal will come.
Fittingly, while covid-19 is forcing millions into food insecurity, millions more have refused to let their fellow man suffer. In a few days, millions of Muslim-Americans will observe the holy month of Ramadan, in which we will forego meals from dawn till dusk, to inculcate the spirit of self-sacrifice and to gain empathy for the less fortunate. As our stomachs burn in hunger for a few short days, we are reminded of those starving souls forced to feel this pain every single day, with no end in sight. Thus, we take to our prayer mats and beg God to assuage their hunger. But our worship does not end there.
Inspired by Prophet Muhammad’s unparalleled generosity during Ramadan, Muslim-Americans are also waging jihad on hunger this Ramadan. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, USA, for which I serve as a cleric, has partnered with Humanity First to convert our mosques into food pantries and food banks, thus far serving 100,000 Americans.
And millions of non-Muslim Americans are also embodying the spirit of empathy that Ramadan imbibes in Muslims. Hindu Americans have raised more than $500,000 to fight hunger and provide direct relief to vulnerable communities. The Sikh Center for New York recently prepared more than 30,000 meals for covid-19 stricken Americans.
On the backdrop of Lent, Christian organizations such as Convoy of Hope aim to provide 10 million meals across the U.S. And secular organizations like the San Antonio Food Bank called people of all faiths to fast this past Good Friday, and make a “fast offering” to SAFB; every dollar donated allows them to distribute 10 pounds of food to the hungry.
Whatever our walk of life, today, every American can embody Ramadan’s spirit of sacrifice by looking out for their neighbor. As we fill our plates with food, let’s not forget those who haven’t had a bite to eat in days. As we unbuckle our belts to make room for our bellies, let’s think about those who have to tighten their waist belts because there’s nothing in theirs. And as they tighten their belts, let’s unclench our fists.
Such an attitude connects us all, whatever our background or religion: “For I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in” (Matthew 25:35). We can help stock local food pantries, give an extra tip to our grocery delivery, stop price gouging essential goods or donate a few dollars to a charity of our choice.
Covid-19 isn’t stopping my mother from feeding God’s children this Ramadan, nor should it stop us. Unlike my mother, though, we don’t need to risk our lives to serve the needy. We can do it from the comfort of our own homes.