As Muslim parents, we always look for ways to build positive characteristics in our children. In America, the problem of homelessness and hunger – while it is an issue – is not as obvious as in other parts of the world. For many children, the problem of hunger is hidden – something they can’t see or experience. Sometimes our children ask for material items – more games, more videos, etc. – and cannot relate to the fact that some children their age are less fortunate. We may respond to them by saying in a hard way, “Don’t you know there are kids who don’t have food to eat?” or maybe in a way that is vague like “You have so much already”. How can we expect them to empathize with the needy if they never see or deal with them?
We can try to build feelings of compassion in childhood, in a way that is both practical while not being punitive.
Once I asked my 6-year old son Noraiz to donate from his kiddy bank. He immediately said, “I don’t see anyone around me who I can give to.” Initially, I had no words to respond to him. I told him some people are homeless and live on the side of the road. He looked outside the car and said that he couldn’t see anyone on the side of the road. I realized that my son had no meaningful experiences with people less fortunate than himself. How can we create those experiences? How can we build meaningful moments that create positive characteristics in our children?
On May 19th we hosted a Hunger Van at our home in Somerset, New Jersey. We prepared meals for 200 people. We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, boiled eggs, baby carrots, and sliced peaches. We invited other families with their children as well. All the kids got involved from the beginning – from preparing the meals to distributing the food boxes to the needy near Penn Station in Newark, NJ.
The kids were given an opportunity to be with their friends and do something meaningful, while having fun. These are those meaningful moments that we hope will develop a feeling of contentment with what they have, and compassion for others. Many times we focus on getting our kids involved in physical activities and may neglect the activities that build them from within. Character is mainly built during childhood. We all need to be proactive and involved in finding exercises such as these that are both fun and purposeful.
Razeena and Soulafa
Soulafa and Razeena live in New Jersey with their young families. Soulafa is an active MAS member who enjoys working and talking with youth. Razeena is a mother of two who spends much of her time thinking of ways to make her house a very fun place for her children. Like most moms, she is always dreaming and praying for their future.
To host or learn more about the Hunger Van, visit www.muslimsagainsthunger.org. Muslims Against Hunger Project is a North American, volunteer-run grass roots effort to mobilize and educate the Muslim community and the community-at-large about the problems of hunger, poverty, and homelessness. It is an Islamic tradition to feed the poor and needy, and their feeding programs give the Muslim community an opportunity to participate in an act of righteousness that will also disseminate the true and compassionate face of the Muslims and Islam, inshAllah.