Islamic organization promotes charity and kindness throughout the DMV
by James Cirrone
Charity has been such an important part of getting College Park residents through the pandemic. The College Park Food Bank distributes food every weekend, and Help by Phone continues to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Dar-us-Salaam, an Islamic nonprofit established in College Park in 1995, is also focused on service, which is heavily informed by its members’ faith.
“Our faith is not complete without helping our neighbors, and our neighbors extend not only locally but interstate … and globally,” said Dar-us-Salaam CEO Safi Khan, who is also the organization’s imam.
Ansaar-ul-Birr is Dar-us-Salaam’s social services arm, and as such, it donates food, clothing and other supplies throughout the DMV. The nonprofit also operates a school for about 600 K-12 students.
During the pandemic, several dozen Ansaar-ul-Birr volunteers worked tirelessly to conduct food drives, deliver groceries to needy families and deliver supplies to shelters and nursing homes. Khan said that he and the volunteers strive to maintain selflessness, though they also struggle, sometimes, to do so.
“I would say probably that the biggest challenge is … to care for people more than we care for ourselves,” he said.
Bibi Mohamed, Ansaar-ul-Birr’s director, noted that the organization is dedicated to caring for others, noting that they donated 45,000 pounds of food to needy families from April to December 2020. During that same period, Ansaar-ul-Birr served 2,000 hot meals and provided 300 packages of winter clothes and sleeping bags to homeless populations in D.C. and Baltimore.
In talking about Ansaar-ul-Birr’s generosity, Khan points to zakat, one of the five pillars of Islam; zakat stipulates that Muslims should donate at least 2.5% of their savings every year to charity. He also noted the times we’re living in.
“The donations were stepped up quite a bit,” Khan said. “People realize that this was a difficult situation we were going through … and our Prophet Mohammed, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, he really encouraged us to step it up during a pandemic.”
Ansaar-ul-Birr also partners with schools and churches in the area to get help to residents in need. One such partnership blossomed as Mohamed and Amy Caruso, a minister at College Park United Methodist Church, connected with each other.
“We’ve gotten to be friends over the last year,” Caruso said about Mohamed, “it all started with her calling the church and saying, ‘I have a lot of milk, would you like it?’”
That phone call eventually led to a food drive, in January 2021, jointly conducted by Ansaar-ul-Birr and the United Methodist Church. Volunteers gave out 200 bags of groceries, each bag weighing about 30 pounds.
“The church also gives us 100 meals monthly to give out to families in our community,” Mohamed said.
United Methodist is still providing those monthly meals, and to give back, Mohamed said that Ansaar-ul-Birr gave the church 1,000 face masks to distribute among their members.
“We share the goodness between us,” Mohamed said.
A similar partnership exists between Ansaar-ul-Birr and Berwyn Heights Elementary School. Kristen Buker, the school’s parent engagement assistant, was concerned, because 70% of the students’ families qualified for the free and reduced-price meals programs at the school and could have needed assistance. Buker reached out to Caruso, seeking donations for them. Caruso connected Buker with Ansaar-ul-Birr, and the organization came through with two big food drives at the school, one in February and one in April. In total, Ansaar-ul-Birr donated 400 bags of groceries to Berwyn Heights families.
Ansaar-ul-Birr volunteers hand out food to families from Berwyn Heights Elementary on Feb. 20, 2021.
Photo Credit: Bibi Mohamed“Ansaar-ul-Birr has been an amazing resource for our families,” Buker said, “Anytime I have reached out, Bibi gets back to me right away, and every time they have a giveaway of any kind, she reaches out to me so I can share it with our families.”
Islam’s principles guide the Dar-us-Salaam community to give generously to as many people as they can. Khan likes to simply reframe charity as simple sharing.
“It’s not that we’re doing you a favor. God has given us all these things,” Khan said. “We’re just sharing it because we believe that it belongs to everyone.”
Caruso said much the same thing when talking about her church’s efforts to give back to the community.
“We understand that it’s not so much a charity thing at this point, but it is a situation of sharing,” Caruso said. “Nobody wants to be looked down upon for their situation.”
And Ansaar-ul-Birr’s mission to share resources is by no means over; indeed, Mohamed is piloting two new programs. One is a gift-giving program for orphans through which the children receive a gift card and a personalized cake. The second is for single mothers — they receive lunch and a gift.
Even with schools out for the summer, Ansaar-ul-Birr is still giving free lunches to kids, with distributions every Monday and Wednesday at the Al-Huda School. During the July 7 lunch distribution, Mohamed ensured that families got a box fan with an air filter or a thermometer if they needed it.
Khan is optimistic about the future of his organization, and he delights in seeing even the youngest students at the school engaged in helping others.
“Even the elementary kids, it’s like a fight,” Khan said. “It’s like a competition between them, ‘I want to participate. I want to participate.’ Everybody wants to be first in line.”