HERNDON, VIRGINIA — Muslims who observe the holy month of Ramadan refrain from eating or drinking from dawn to dusk for one month.
Many also take the time to volunteer because one of the five pillars of Islam is Zakat, charitable giving.
Ehsan Baig, a practicing Muslim, is observing Ramadan with prayers and fasting.
And on this day, at a high school cafeteria in Herndon, Virginia, he and his family are helping to prepare bags of fresh fruits and vegetables for distribution to families in need.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to come here and help out, to give the community back something, and plus bring all my kids, my children, so they can learn how the food is distributed among the unfortunate people,” he said. “This is a huge, huge part of our religion, especially during Ramadan it is said when you give something, God multiplies it 70 times or more.”
Baig’s daughter Rabia, 15, seems to have taken that lesson to heart.
“I’m here because, I mean it’s Ramadan. I want to emphasize the giving not just the praying. I want to feel why I am fasting. I want to feel these other people, how they’re living their lives without food, without water,” she said. “When you give the food and you give anything you’re giving them, they’re always saying ‘thank you’ with huge smiles and you feel so good about yourself.”
The food drive, called “Herndon without Hunger” is run by a non-profit group called FAITH (The Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help), which has organized this event in Herndon every week during Ramadan for the past nine years.
The mission of the organization is to provide social services to members of the local population, from all faiths and backgrounds.
“On my way to the school today, I saw people walking -- it’s about 97 degrees outside today -- with their children, with umbrellas just to come and stand for about two, three hours in a line to receive food,” said Somayyah Ghariani, who coordinates the program. “So that within itself I think explains how important it is for these families to come out here and receive the fresh produce that they may not be able to find anywhere else.”
Volunteers, both Muslim and non-Muslim, work side-by-side to distribute basic food staples such as oil and rice and fresh fruits and vegetables. The food comes from local businesses, food banks and grocery stores.
Rizwan Jaka and his family have attended the food drive for the past several years.
"We're here to participate in this wonderful program… to help those in need, to help our neighbors and friends to make sure that we're providing and sharing of our wealth and sharing of our food," he said.
Mikaeel Jaka, 12, who has been volunteering at the event for the past four years, says the recipients at the food drive are “people just like me.”
“And so I want to make sure that they’re treated equally also," Mikaeel said. "And giving them food and seeing them smile and saying thank you makes me feel really good.”
Food recipient Sylvia Morgan heard about Herndon Without Hunger from a friend.
“He called me up and told me about it and he knew that I needed help and I’m here,” she said tearfully. “When you’re on a tight budget, it really counts a lot. And I really appreciate it."
Imam Johari, director of outreach at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center just outside Washington, says that's one of the principles of Ramadan.
"The Prophet said you are not a Muslim if you go to bed with your stomach full, and your neighbor is hungry,” he said. “We try to live that, especially in the month of Ramadan.”
Last year FAITH distributed food to more than 7,000 individuals. The group expects to exceed that number by the end of Ramadan.