Labeling Myself ‘Muslim’ For What It Really Matters

Published on 02/29/2016 on the Huffington Post.

Wars, killing, genocide in the name of religion have never really been in our control, i.e. you and me, everyday individuals, who live our life in simple ways believing in love and respect for all, but what about things that are in our control? Things such as: Righteousness, Justice and Well-doing? “For religion standeth in righteousness, justice, and well-doing.” – Latimer (c. 1485-1555).

I work as the National Program Director of a volunteer based non-profit called Hunger Van | Muslims Against Hunger, whose founder is Zamir Hassan. Zamir is retired but has been working tirelessly as champion for interfaith feeding events for the hungry and homeless for over 10 years now.

We at Muslims Against Hunger want everyone to understand, learn and acknowledge that ‘Hunger has no religion’ and our goal is to engage communities through service.

I have always believed through my up bringing that religion shouldn’t be a factor in terms of whom we are helping, but a practical question often begged to differ: ‘If hunger has no religion what does religion have to do with feeding the hungry’? Why do so many non-profits constantly coin themselves as a religious group against a social injustice?

At Muslims Against Hunger we do not hand out any practical teachings about Islam except promoting the act of charity and yet we pride ourselves in being called ‘Muslims Against Hunger’. Our projects, on interfaith feeding, have grown so big that we even have a branch called ‘Faiths Against Hunger’. Religion somehow seems to overshadow our genuine will to do good in this world.

I do believe that having an ethical perimeter and a moral compass are inherent and there really should be no need for religion in that. So what makes religion so vital from an already moral standpoint?

All major religions force us to focus on issues that we forgo in our everyday lives. They teach us to pause, go beyond our daily interactions, and look at the injustice and suffering in the world, constantly commanding us to do something about it.

As a Muslim I am forced to reckon with the 5 pillars of faith, one of which is Charity (Zakah), on a daily basis. I am also commanded to be righteous, just and work on the well doing of the world.

“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Qur’an, 5:48)

“God commands justice and fair dealing…” (Qur’an 16:90)

Justice is a common theme found in most religions:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)

Justice or being just is a moral virtue, an equal distribution of sorts, and or understanding it as evenhandedness. In Jewish traditions, Tzedek or justice is more than a legal system, it is ‘tempered by compassion’.

And I honestly believe that even though compassion is something we are born with it is in constant need of nurturing.

I personally love and live by this quote, often attributed to Mother Teresa: “The problem with this world is that we draw the circle of family too small”. We easily forget the person panhandling for food or the homeless person shivering on the sidewalk as we rush to work. We forget about compassion! And religion is here to remind us, to not forget our humanity in this busy world of being just humans.

If someone is able to do this without the help of religion, I think that it is completely fine as long as they have a way to nurture compassion, a method to keep this constant reminder in their heart.

As human beings we must all value and know what compassion is worth, and we must be willing to spend time working on it, any which way. And as a Muslim if I am able to remind myself or even one person of our necessary commitment towards righteousness, justice, and well-doing I guess it is worth putting it in my title.

– Falak Zaffer Ghatala, American Muslim (Muslims Against Hunger)

Twinning of Muslims & Jews at Beth Shalom for Hunger Van.

Published January 20, 2015

Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu ’alayhi wa sallam) said, “Whoever amongst you sees an evil, he must change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is unable to do so, then with his heart; and that is the weakest form of Faith” [Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Hadith 184].

“When you see something that isn’t right you have an obligation to make it right.” – Member of Beth Shalom congregation, repeated by Rabbi Marc Rudolph.

A YouTube video of the Rabbi can be found here

Members of the congregation at Beth Shalom, hosted the Hunger Vanon December 7th, 2014, in Naperville/Aurora. Joined in for this deed were members of Islamic Center of Naperville and other friends of Hunger Van. Together they worked towards one cause, i.e. to correct an injustice in the world!

Even if it was for a single meal, it was difference worth making. It was hope given to the hundreds of homeless men and women living in the area. It was a life saved. It was two different communities working together towards a common idea of ‘Sadaqah’ / ‘S’daqah’ / ‘Tzedakha’ / ‘Charity’, and trying to make a difference in the world. It was humanity prevailing.

Sadaqah or S’daqah isn’t just about generosity and charity it is about the importance of justice prevailing in societies. There are millions of people who suffer from injustice, injustice of not being able to survive in today’s fast moving society.

A lot of homeless members are educated, hard working individuals who have had one giant crisis that has made them fall into an abyss of homelessness. These people find it hard to combat homelessness without the proper tools. When food should be the least of their concerns for getting back on their feet it is a huge hurdle faced by the millions homeless. In a society where food wastage is at an all time high, [according to the Environmental Protection Agency“food leftovers are the single-largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States.”], it is an injustice to see hundreds of people going hungry every day. In a world of surplus there is a shortage of humanity. It is our responsibility as humble citizens to fill this gap.

Zamir Hassan created the Hunger Van project just to pursue this cause. A cause that he thought was worth devoting all of his time to. He currently runs feeding programs in 20 plus cities with the help of 3000 plus volunteers from various faiths. He has been able to join forces for the common good of society, which is a great feat on its own.

On Dec 7th, 2014, he joined hands with the congregation of Beth Shalom and the members of the Islamic Center of Naperville to provide meals to the homeless in the Naperville/Aurora community. To see volunteers in action please click here.


The turn out of volunteers (see more pictures here) was unprecedented and people worked hard to make sandwiches and salad containers with love, purpose and dedication.

Crews were divided into stations: The sandwich station consisted of a row of Z shaped honey scribblers, cinnamon sprinklers, sunflower butter spreaders and banana choppers and placers. The salad station consisted of green mixers, special ingredients blenders, salad packers and lid sealers.

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The packing crew was responsible for strategically placing uneven containers to avoid spillage and wrapping the completed product with love, the cleaning crew made sure the Temple kitchen was returned to its spotless features.

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Everyone had a job to do and it was a fantastic venture, which ended in great success.


A few members of the team also went out on the local streets to hand food to the homeless.


If you would like to be a part of the Hunger Van project or would like to bring the project to your area please register to volunteer for a Hunger Run at

Shalom Aleikhem: Hunger Van @AmShalom – An Act of Righteousness

“When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry’” (Midrash to Psalm 118:17). 

“And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive” (Qur’an 76:8)

Religion is a way of life that teaches us how to live, teaches us how to be compassionate and teaches us right from wrong. Nevertheless, even if we did take away the texts and the spirituality from our lives, we are left with this systematic world with humanity and its basic survival needs. Our own humanity doesn’t permit us to live without compassion and our own body reminds us daily of our hunger pangs. Yet we often end up neglecting another human being who maybe in dire need of a meal, maybe due to lack of time, or passion.

IMG_2903However on October 19th, 2014 things were a little different. Zamir Hassan, the founder of the Hunger Van Project stood in front of a group of volunteers from Am Shalom (a Jewish Synagogue in Glencoe, IL) and explained the consequence of hunger, who is it that is considered to be hungry, and how a group of small volunteers can effectively make a huge difference in the world. For pictures from this event, please click here.

IMG_2905Am Shalom, on a monthly basis gathers together a group of volunteers to prepare meals for the homeless in the Chicago area. However, on this particular Sunday, Patti Vile (a member of the Synagogue) and Zamir Hassan decided to combine the efforts of both the organizations to help feed the needy. Volunteers gathered from both groups, with varied backgrounds and age groups and were stationed with different tasks for the hour. The youngest volunteer of the day was 11 years old and he made a great deal of difference in the community without even realizing his impact.

Hunger Van would like to thank all its volunteers including the children, Noah Magill (age 14), Jonah Magill (age 12) and Levi Magill (age 11) who worked continuously for over an hour to prepare over a 150 sandwiches for the poor.


Thanks to this passionate group of volunteers and the Hunger Van project, humanity was able to work towards achieving one common goal. Feeding the hungry!

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to see volunteers in action click the link

The Hunger Van was born in 2011 because Muslims Against Hunger founder Zamir Hassan, a practicing Muslim and resident of Bedminster, New Jersey decided that if hungry people such as the ones congregating around parks and train stations, could not come to the food, the food would come to them in vans, conveniently packaged and ready to eat. The cost of producing one hot meal is $6.07 and $4.85 for cold ones; and meals as well as events are donation-based. Sponsors are encouraged to raise funds for the feeding event. All of the food is vegan and can last for a long period of time without spoiling. for more information about Hunger Vanproject click here