By Susan Schwartz, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
The problem of the homeless is one that plagues every sizeable American city. In Los Angeles the area known as Skid Row is not too distant from the downtown government centers, and is an area to be traversed only when on the way to somewhere else. Should a person find himself in Skid Row, the faces on the residents have a haunting look that brings to mind one word: â€œhopelessnessâ€.
This past Sunday in the middle of Ramadan, Muslims from all over the Los Angeles area participated in the seventh annual Humanitarian Day, a charitable endeavor dedicated to brightening the lives of Skid Row residents through the charitable distribution of food, personal supplies and health care services. A total of 1045 people were assisted.
The ILM Foundation began the tradition of Humanitarian Day, through its derivative, the Coalition to Preserve Human Dignity. The event began in Los Angeles and now takes place in 22 cities across the United States. This is done to honor the Islamic concept of humanity and further to honor the Islamic quality of collective response to the needs of others.
A section of street on Skid Row was closed off to traffic and filled with blue tented booths, each with an item to brighten the life of a homeless person and staffed by one or more smiling volunteers.. People, disproportionately men, stood in line waiting. Young men in black T shirts bearing in gold the Coalition to Preserve Human Dignity logo formed a line to help guide the homeless from the first booth to the last.
Older people or people with disabilities were helped by volunteers. Sounds of â€œWe need another wheelchairâ€ or â€œwe need more soap for this boothâ€ could be heard as could cheerful greetings and words of encouragement.
Chairs were provided around the perimeter of the event for those who found the unseasonably hot weather tiring. Water bottles were offered to them as well.
The first item the homeless received was a large plastic bag roughly twice the capacity of an average supermarket paper bag.
The volunteers guided the homeless toward ponchos (in the event of rain); blankets, personal items, articles of clothing, prepared meals and snacks, and health care services. Bottled water was also available.
â€œThese people think of everythingâ€ said one elderly African America woman when offered a bottle of water.
â€œAnd they smile all the timeâ€ said her neighbor.
Indeed, the volunteers seemed to be carrying out the hadith that â€œA smile is charity.â€
The homeless people were treated as brothers and the patronizing that is often seen in charity work was completely absent.
Humanitarian Day was also carried out in Las Vegas, Nevada; Accra, Ghana; Houston, Texas; Washington, D. C., and San Diego, California. to name but a few cities.
Humanitarian Day is the product of the ILM Foundation. ILM is the Arabic word for wisdom, and also stands for the acronym: intellect, Love, and Mercy. ILM is the work product of Imam Saadiq Saafir, a revert to Islam and an African American. Arriving from Chicago to Los Angeles, Imam Saafir was shocked and dismayed by the course he saw the African American youth taking in the inner city. It seemed to him that gangs and prison were the future of these youths absent intercession.
True to Islamic teachings which emphasized character and righteousness as a way to separate the individual from the evil in his society, Imam Saafir began his work. He concentrated on the lowest rung of society.
In 1998 ILM was formed. ILM programs include â€œEat Right to Think Right; :â€Teaching Life Skills to Replace Social Illsâ€ and â€œGo Beyond the G.A.M.E. (Gratitude, Attitude, Motivation and Education).
The last is aimed at Los Angeles youth in the poorest and most at risk districts of Los Angeles and enjoys the cooperation of NFL players.
ILM through its work has won the admiration of people and organizations within and without the Muslim community and has helped Muslims build bridges to the non-Muslim community.