Saint Louis Muslim Community Sets Example for Community Action
by Sheila Musaji
In 2007 Muslims in Saint Louis have worked on more community projects than they have in past years. The success of these projects has been due in large part to the fact that they were intra-community projects involving more than one mosque or organization.
The first of these projects was a Memorial Day week-end BBQ for veterans and staff at the VA Hospital at Jeffersons Barracks which served about 210 people. The event was organized by the St. Louis Muslim Coalition and was very well received.
On July 6th a number of Muslim doctors and representatives of CAIR-St Louis held a press conference at the Islamic Foundation to speak out against the terrorist attack in Scotland. Dr. Khaled Hamid, a physician and a CAIR board member said, “We are part of the society. We are here to stay and are not a threat to anybody.” He also expressed his shock and dismay at the fact that any physician who has taken an oath to protect life could be part of such a plot. Many other Muslim doctors also expressed their anguish about this terrible incident both as Muslims and as Americans. KMOV a local television station aired a brief report on the press conference. The St. Louis Post Dispatch also ran a story.
In August more than 200 Muslims gathered in a rally to denounce terrorism.
“Melissa Matos, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ St. Louis chapter urged the crowd to be more vocal in denouncing terrorism. Meanwhile, moms in traditional Muslim head-covering herded young sons carrying baseball gloves, who wanted only to leave the adults to their conversation and go outside the mosque for a traditional game of catch.
Matos said Muslims needed to communicate better with their neighbors. “Muslims are an integral part of American life and this is our home,” she said. “So why does this misunderstanding exist? It is because extremists are yelling while we are whispering, brothers and sisters, and no one can hear us.”
The rally at the Daar-ul-Islam mosque in west St. Louis County kicked off the “Muslim Visibility Campaign” being organized by local Muslim leaders. Organizers handed out stickers with the campaign’s logo: an olive-branch-carrying dove in front of an American flag, with the words “Muslims Denounce Terrorism” above and “Terrorism has no religion” below the dove.
“Be loud,” Matos said. “Islam does not encourage hate or terrorism against civilians. Islam stands for justice and peace, and we must be the ones to carry that message, because no one else will.”
The Saint Louis based online journal The American Muslim also participated in this Muslim Visibility Campaign with a similar logo placed on its website, and 2,000 logo bumper stickers distributed online. The logo on the TAM site when “clicked” takes the reader to a list of resources on the topic “Muslims Denounce Terrorism”, and this clickable logo has been picked up by websites around the country.
In September, a fund raising dinner was held to raise donations for Backstoppers to aid the families of police officers and fire fighters from greater St. Louis who have fallen in the line of duty. This event raised $10,000 for Backstoppers.
In October, the Muslim Student Associations (MSA) at Saint Louis University and at Washington University held “fastathons” during Ramadan to raise money for the needy. Since this program began in 2004, it has attracted more participants each year, for example at SLU there were 100 participants in 2004, and 400 this year.
In October, 53 community volunteers (30 kids and 23 adults) served around 130 homeless people in a shelter (New Life Evangelical Center) in down town Saint Louis. There was a wide variety of Indo-Pakistani, Arabic and Persian food. The homeless people appreciated the food and the service very much, and twice gave a big applause for the volunteers. One of the homeless people named Paul told Dr. Bastani that “it is so good that you guys have brought your kids with you to serve, and it is amazing that they are so happy, smiling and eager to serve us”. Another one introduced himself as Hakim, an African American convert to Islam, and requested a Qur’an with English translation.
In November, 16 members (half were kids) of the “Muslim Community of Saint Louis” served food and shared their lunch with some 70 homeless people, including some 20 kids and 20 women, in a shelter run by Water Towers Christian Ministry. The event went very well. Rev. Melvin Roberson, the members of his church, and the homeless were very thankful of the Muslim community who had held the event.
In December, after reading in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the St. Louis Area Food Bank was empty, the community raised $4,700 and 1,000 pounds of meat in one week and delivered it to the food bank. The community also “challenged” other local religious communities to do the same. This was noted by Tim Townsend of the Saint Louis Post Dispatch:
“Responding to a front page article two weeks ago in this newspaper about the near-empty shelves of the St. Louis Area Foodbank, some area Muslims appealed to the greater Muslim community and raised $4,400, plus 1,000 pounds of frozen meat, which they delivered to the food bank earlier this week.
Matt Dace, associate director of the food bank, said that while members of religious groups volunteer their time during food drives, an effort by an entire religious group to gather money and food is unprecedented.”
The press release sent out by the organizers stated:
Last week we read in the Post-Dispatch about the Food Bank being empty. A few of us got together and discussed what we could do, because as Muslims we felt we needed to act quickly to attempt to do something to help.
Islam teaches us that:
They feed, for the love of God, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive,
(saying), “We feed you for the sake of God alone: No reward to we desire
from you, nor thanks.” Qur’an 76:8-9
The Prophet (pbuh) said three times “He is not a believer.” He was
asked “Who is not a believer?” The Prophet responded “The one who
sleeps with a full stomach while his neighbor is hungry.” Hadith
We put out an appeal to the community and were able to collect $4,700 in cash donations, and about 1,000 pounds of meat this week.
We hope to be able to do more in the future. We would also like to challenge other faith communities in Saint Louis to make the same appeal to their communities. If all of the faith communities in the Greater Saint Louis help with this, we should be able to fill the food bank.
This would be a wonderful way to truly celebrate Eid, Christmas, and Hannukah!
(Photo: Matt Dace of the St. Louis Area Food Bank with Imam Muhammad Hasic, Sheikh M. Nur Abdullah, and Sheila Musaji who presented the money and meat from the St. Louis Muslim community.)
And, over the course of the year, the community reached out by providing accurate information about Islam and Muslims to their non-Muslim neighbors. The Islamic Speakers Bureau of St. Louis through its speaker program reached approximately 4,200 people this year. 82 groups from - 19 parochial schools, 11 churches, 15 colleges & universities, 14 public schools, 4 seminaries, 3 synagogues, 1 State Dept. Group, 3 DOJ trainings, 2 interfaith panels, 3 tour groups. 1 each from: political group, MENSA, Missouri scholars Academy, civic group and health care professionals.
Local Saint Louis community members also received a number of awards. Dr. Waheed Rana received the Zaytuna Institute’s Alexander Russell Webb Award for interfaith work. Sheila Musaji received the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Community Service Award for Journalism. Randa Kuziez received the Saint Louis University 2007 Woman of the Year Award.