Qari Asim: Bringing faiths together in a day of positive action
FOR Christians, Lent is a period of self-discipline, marked by fasting, self-control, repentance and prayer. Luxury or rich foods '“ such as chocolates, dairy and meat products '“ are often avoided by those taking part.
Muslims also fast every year during the month of Ramadan when they abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset. The act of “fasting” has multiple purposes: it is a means to detox one’s body and purify the soul; it teaches self-restraint and it increases people’s compassion for those who have been deprived of their daily means of survival.
As there are a number of similarities between Lent and Ramadan, the #Muslims4Lent campaign was started in the USA a couple of years ago and quickly spread around the world.
In solidarity with the season of Lent, some young Muslims in Leeds have given up pleasures from their daily lives to demonstrate their commitment to peace and solidarity with others. The #Muslims4Lent campaign is running for 40 days and those Muslims and Christians participating have been using this time to help better understand the common practices and principles within Christianity and Islam, to celebrate inter-faith work and the universality of faith.
In keeping with the spirit of Lent, a number of faith institutions across Britain will also take part in “Sadaqa Day” – a Muslim-led day of social action focused on bringing smiles to people’s faces.
Inspired by the Jewish Mitzvah Day, it encourages people to demonstrate the universal values, as well as the British values, of giving, sharing and caring for others.
Initiatives include donating cash, baking cakes, helping others with shopping, painting a nursery garden, feeding a homeless person or a refugee, cleaning up the streets or sitting by the side of a sick person. In short, it is about doing good, reaching out and giving time and money to help others.
In the current climate, when violence is unfairly associated with Islam and Muslims are labelled as extremists, or they are being considered as the “fifth column” by some, it may sound strange to many that Islam’s core values include giving, sharing and caring for others. “Sadaqa is due on every joint of a person, every day the sun rises”, instructs the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
In Islam, “Sadaqa” is much more than just giving money in charity. It is also about giving up time and making an effort, reaching out to others, working with others – from all backgrounds – to bring about positive change in society.
Islam strongly emphasises the importance of caring for others and refers to those living in surrounding areas as “neighbours”. A “neighbour” is not necessarily just a person living next door, but a street is a neighbour to the next street, a district is a neighbour to the next district. The people may be of different backgrounds and social or financial status, but they should be united in caring for each other.
Many British Muslims are actively involved in giving, sharing and taking care of others. The “Give a Gift” scheme in Leeds has already seen hundreds of Muslims donating toys and gifts for youngsters in hospital.
Every last Friday of the month in city centre, young Muslim volunteers bring food, clothes and charitable items and help the homeless. Last year in Sadaqa Day, 35 events and projects were organised in 18 different local authority areas, which engaged 400-plus volunteers and more than 2,000 hours of collective volunteering.
This year on the national #SadaqaDay – Sunday, March 20 – Muslims, Christians, Jews and volunteers from other faiths and none will gather at Makkah Mosque in Leeds to pack food parcels, toys and write cards for children in care. Sadaqa Day provides opportunities to engage both with charities which need us, and also with people who we don’t normally engage with.
It is hoped that this such interaction will not only strengthen the relationships of young participants but also bring about positive change in Yorkshire.
Muslim organisations across Leeds are already collecting donations to create food parcels for the poor and vulnerable, in conjunction with PAFRAS – Positive Action for Refuges & Asylum Seekers. Toys and money are also being collected to give to vulnerable children in care of Child Friendly Leeds.
As British citizens with shared values, we all have a burning desire to bring harmony, friendship and active giving to our local communities.
It is hoped that Sadaqa Day will help to build upon and broaden faith communities’ remarkable charitable contributions through the giving of time, where the lives of others and the state of our neighbourhoods are made that little bit better.
Qari Asim MBE is am imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds. If you would like to volunteer on Sadaqa Day, you can visit the mosque on Thornville Road, Leeds, between 2-4pm.