How American Muslims give back during Ramadan

People distributing toys (Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty)
Volunteers help distribute children's toys in Boston for "Humanitarian Day" during Ramadan. (Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty)

Islamic teachings place a strong emphasis on charity, especially during the holy month of Ramadan.

American Muslims — like Muslims everywhere — typically make a special effort to increase their charitable activities throughout Ramadan. They raise funds to provide food and medicine for refugees, volunteer at soup kitchens, visit fellow Muslims in local hospitals, and look for other ways to help the needy.

Good deeds and the sunrise-to-sunset fasting practiced during Ramadan lend an intensely spiritual focus to the month. For Uzma Farooq, vice president of the Muslim Women’s Coalition and director of the organization’s greater Washington office, serving her community is a big part of Ramadan.

Farooq — who moved to the United States in 1980 from her native Pakistan — lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She has been in a leadership role for 15 years with the coalition, a nonprofit group of American Muslim women dedicated to humanitarian causes.

Several years ago, Farooq and her fellow volunteers launched the Ramadan Basket Project, which distributes basic necessities to disadvantaged women and children in the Washington area. The project, which has become an annual event, benefits Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Volunteers standing in front of baskets of goods (Courtesy of Uzma Farooq)
Ramadan Basket Project volunteers sort goods for distribution to needy families. (Courtesy of Uzma Farooq)

As Ramadan begins, the project’s volunteers fill large laundry baskets with personal hygiene items and food items. Gift cards that can be redeemed at grocery stores are often added, as well.

“We have different teams in different areas that [fill] the baskets and help deliver them,” said Farooq. Although her organization runs the program, volunteers from different faith groups also pitch in.

The volunteers “are students, teachers, professors, retired employees of the World Bank, activists and policymakers,” said Farooq. “What we have done is brought [Ramadan’s] spirit of giving … to people’s doorsteps.”

Farooq estimates that volunteers will distribute baskets to some 160 families in the Washington area during Ramadan 2017.

Similar volunteer projects are carried out around the country by different Muslim organizations during Ramadan and beyond.

Islamic Relief USA provides humanitarian relief and development assistance to people worldwide, regardless of gender, race or religion. Every year, the group distributes Ramadan food packages to needy Muslims in dozens of countries, including the United States.

Volunteering during Ramadan is especially important, because “Islam teaches us to take care of our neighbors and be responsible citizens,” said Farooq. “Ramadan connects and unites all Muslims for a spiritual reason. … It is one of the most beautiful times of the year with family, friends and the community at large.”