OAKLAND (June 17, 2020) — Zakat Foundation of America will deliver nearly 35,000 pounds of farm-fresh produce into food-insecure East Oakland for free distribution Saturday, June 20, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., at Masjidul Waritheen, 1700 47th Avenue, the city’s oldest mosque.
The food relief for hurting families comes after weeks of near-total shutdowns, impelled by violent police crackdowns on diverse anti-racist protestors outraged by ongoing rampant police brutality against African Americans, ignited by the public police-lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
The protests and ensuing police action have come in the wake of months of deadly pandemic disruptions, particularly for perennially underserved African American communities locked in health care and food deserts.
“True faith is more than belief in the heart. It is to act quickly with humane empathy and mercy on behalf of the vulnerable,” said Halil Demir, Zakat Foundation’s executive director. “We want to put a little bit of love in the hearts of people, bring some healing to our nation.”
Believers in Humanity Abound
Demir’s quest of compassion has resonated deeply with a growing, diverse array of eager religious and nonprofit groups.
More than 30 organizations under the Northern California Islamic Council (NCIC) umbrella — including Lighthouse Mosque, CAIR-CA (Council on American-Islamic Relations), SABA and others scattered throughout the Bay Area — will help pass out crates brimming with colorful fruits and vegetables to some 7,000 people in urgent need of the fresh nutrition.
“The Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, said, ‘He is no believer who sleeps at night while his neighbor goes hungry.’ So we want to be sure we live by that, that we take care of all our neighbors,” said Hatem Bazian, chair of NCIC. “Each and every human being has a right to quality food, clean water, health care and shelter, and blessed are those that make this possible.”
Jewish Voice for Peace’s Bay Area chapter is also set to volunteer. In a statement, the JVPBA quoted the Torah, which says “Tzedek tzedek tirdof,” translated as “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”
Relief workers from the international humanitarian agency, headquartered in Bridgeview, Illinois, near Chicago, have packed each produce box with 25 pounds of farm-fresh tomatoes, apples, oranges, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, carrots, asparagus, onions, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables.
Bazian, who is co-editor and founder of the Islamophobia Studies Journal, director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project, and a senior lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley, quickly points to where credit for the food project should go.
“NCIC’s partnership with the leadership of the Black Muslim community has made the efforts to address immediate food insecurity in the Bay Area possible,” Bazian said.
He lauds, as well, “the resourcefulness of Zakat Foundation of America. They’ve responded to the growing humanitarian needs in East Oakland, in particular — one of the heaviest hit with COVID-19 in Alameda County.”
Standing Up to Stand Together
But Bazian, too, has his eye on the larger societal picture.
“Our hope is that this is a first step of many toward building a healthy and more inclusive society,” Bazian said.
Organizers plan to follow the upcoming food giveaway with a socially distanced communal prayer.
Amna Mirza, the global charity’s head of marketing and communications and cornerstone liaison for the event, laments how “COVID-19 and recent curfews have forced us to stay indoors and keep away from family and friends. A sense of loneliness has overcome many of us, which is ironic because we live in an ever-connected world.”
So Mirza set Zakat Foundation’s fresh-food support for America’s downtrodden and pandemic-wearied in motion after Floyd’s murder. She’s now seen her idea spring to life in food distributions from coast to coast — including in North Carolina’s Triangle Region, coronavirus-battered New York, refugee-hub St. Louis, and protest epicenter Minneapolis.
“For two decades, Zakat Foundation has stood with the oppressed, providing aid to underrepresented communities throughout the world. Now is no time for us to stay silent,” Mirza said. “This is what Zakat Foundation stands for. To truly feel connected to each other. To understand the plight of our neighbor. To feel empathy. To understand it’s our humanity that connects us. It’s putting our common humanity above what divides us.”