What is ICSJ’s main focus in the National Campaign Against Hunger?
Imam Khalid Griggs: The main focus of the ICNA Council for Social Justice (ICSJ) National Campaign Against Hunger is to assist in raising awareness among Muslims and non-Muslims about the hunger crisis in America today, while suggesting practical steps that individuals can take to address this scourge on the social well being of the nation.
The poverty index of any country, including statistics revealing the number of people without adequate food, is relative to the availability of physical resources of that particular nation—not the degree of poverty in some other nation. Therefore, daily hunger among 49 million Americans, almost half of them children and the elderly, is an unacceptable reality that ICSJ is attempting to address in a meaningful way through advocacy, programs, and suggestions.
There have been numerous campaigns to fight hunger in the US. What will differentiate this from the rest?
KG: One of the unfortunate realities of Muslim life in America is that we have, regrettably, lagged behind in our involvement in the life of the general community as it relates to addressing problems of common concern, like hunger in this country. ICSJ is not attempting to do something that has never been done before. We are simply attempting to motivate ourselves and others to understand the gravity of the problem and use our Allah-given resources and talents to help relieve the suffering of so many millions of our neighbors. As a matter of fact, ICNA CSJ recognizes that hunger is an equal opportunity problem that doesn’t discriminate by religion, race, or ethnicity.
ICNA is a relatively small organization and this campaign has limited resources compared to the government/other charitable efforts in fighting hunger. What do you hope to see as the practical achievement of this campaign at the end of the month?
KG: Firstly, we hope that through our educational campaign millions of Muslims will commit themselves to consistently and systematically offering assistance to a population that, often due to no fault of its own, is forced to decide between buying food or medicine, purchasing nutritional food or cheap, unhealthy substitutes. Many of us are unaware of the depth of the hunger problem in the United States, but once we become more knowledgeable, are moved by our faith to take concrete action.
What are some specific events ICSJ will be hosting for this campaign?
KG: We are encouraging Muslims to Skip-a-Lunch on Thursdays and directly purchase lunch for the needy or donate the average price of that lunch to programs designed to feed the poor, like ICNA Relief or Meals on Wheels. Although the Skip-a-Lunch program was designed for the October campaign, the practice of fasting on Thursdays and donating money to feed the needy is a spiritual and social practice that should be kept up throughout the year.
Are there any specific partnerships with other organizations that we are building right now that you see as becoming permanent in fighting social injustice?
KG: We are pleased to have built partnerships with national, regional, and local organizations that fight hunger, torture, domestic violence, unjust immigration policies, and abuses of the criminal justice system.
American Muslims relatively have less hunger issues. How do you see them benefiting from this campaign?
KG: The unprecedented recession that has gripped the American people in the last two years has caused a drastic deterioration in the quality of life of both Muslims and non-Muslims in this country. Even before this latest near-depression, American Muslims of all ethnicities and racial groupings engaged the social service system of this land to receive basic survival resources like food, food stamps and emergency financial and housing assistance. Muslims were so busy boasting about the high income and educational achievements of Muslims in this country that too often we were oblivious to or chose to ignore the dire straits that tens of thousands of our brothers and sisters suffered from daily. Campaigns like the National Campaign Against Hunger bring attention to the pitiful daily reality of Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States. InshaAllah, our knowledge will cause us to give back to the poor and needy that which Allah has given them rights over—our surplus food and wealth.
How can American Muslims be more involved in fighting hunger from a social justice perspective? What advice can you give to the layperson in this regard?
KG: Muslims must understand that hunger is, first and foremost, a social justice issue. Maintaining a sufficient food intake, relative to its availability in a given nation, is a human right bestowed on us by our Creator. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has categorically condemned in numerous Hadith those who go to bed with their stomachs full while their neighbors are hungry. The entire food chain in America, from planting, harvesting, distribution, retail, and consumption are rife with waste. No nation wastes as much food as the American people—this in a nation with 49 million of its people unable to provide themselves and their families sufficient food to stave off malnutrition, hunger, and in some extreme cases, starvation. Muslims have a divine imperative to champion social justice issues like the eradication of hunger in this relative land of plenty.
Imam Khalid Griggs is Chairman of the ICNA Council for Social Justice, an advocacy branch of the Islamic Circle of North America that aims to keep the American Muslim community and broader public informed about and involved in pertinent civil and social issues in the United States. As part of the National Campaign Against Hunger, ICSJ is contacting local officials and attending candidate forums to ask politicians how they plan to eliminate hunger in the United States.