Islamic charity starts at home: Feeding London’s homeless

Homeless people line up to be fed

In this interview Hanan Chehata, who runs The Children of Adam charity, explains how feeding London’s homeless is Islamic, necessary and rewarding.

5 Pillarz: Tell us a little bit about The Children of Adam?

Hanan Chehata: The Children of Adam is a volunteer-based initiative that helps the homeless in central London. It’s a weekly outdoor soup kitchen in which Muslims and non-Muslims come together every Sunday to provide food, drinks, clothes, blankets and other basic provisions to people who are either homeless or in some way struggling to make ends meet. Around 100 men and women make use of our soup kitchen every week.

5P: What gave you the idea to start this initiative?

HC: The group was initially set up following an “Iftar Flashmob” in Ramadan 2011. Iftar Flashmobs are relatively recent phenomena which have been taking place up and down the country for a few years now. The idea behind them is that Muslims who are breaking their fast during the holy month of Ramadan should do so by sharing their evening meal with others who are less fortunate. In London in 2011 one of the largest Iftar Flashmobs took place at Lincoln’s Inn Field in Holborn (an area of London with a long history of soup kitchens) where fasting Muslims brought food and drinks with them and then shared their meals with the 100 or so homeless people who had also gathered there.

5P: And after this one-off event you just wanted to continue?

HC: Yes, it was an incredibly eye opening experience. However, as Ramadan came to an end it was clear to me and other Londoners who had taken part, that the weekly meet-ups with the homeless would now be coming to an end too. That seemed a pity to us as it was obvious that the homeless people we had met would not suddenly stop being hungry for the next 11 months until the following Ramadan rolled around.

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Having also now experienced how easy it was to organise, my friends and I put out the call for anyone interested in continuing the soup kitchen on a weekly basis to come together for a brain storming session. The result was the volunteer group that has now been running for well over a year and is called the “Children of Adam.”

The name was chosen, in part, to serve as a reminder that we are all “Children of Adam” and part of the same human family and that we have a moral duty to help those who are less fortunate than ourselves, regardless of race, gender, nationality or religion. This sort of basic community awareness is especially critical at a time when the government is focusing more on social welfare cuts than social welfare assistance and more and more people are struggling to survive as a result.

5P: Who are your volunteers?

HC: Our volunteers come from all backgrounds and walks of life; we have Muslims and non-Muslims (although the volunteers are predominantly Muslim). Among our volunteers we have teachers, cab drivers, students, activists, housewives, nurses and so on.

5P: What aspect of this do you find most rewarding?

HC: One of the most appealing aspects of this sort of charitable initiative is the fact that it is so “hands on.” Instead of donating to a charity where the recipients are anonymous, we actually meet and talk to our recipients. We hand out the food ourselves and see it being eaten so there’s no element of uncertainty as to where the donations are going.

Almost as important as the food itself is the simple act of communication with the homeless. So many of them have said that, while the food and drink is really important to them (many survive from day to day predominantly on what the various soup kitchens provide), the other element they like is just the interaction with the volunteers. Too often they are just ignored sitting on park benches or street corners, and for our group to meet them once a week and ask how things are going since we saw them last seems to be a vital element of what we do to.

That sense of community spirit is what keeps the volunteers coming back week after week. The fact that they give up their Sundays at home with their families and instead chose to stand outside, exposed to the elements, be it snow, rain, sleet, sun etc… is a testament to how dedicated these volunteers are as well as how much they actually enjoy the experience. There’s a sense of purpose and achievement that comes with being a volunteer with a group like ours.

Similarly, the fact that around 100 homeless and disadvantaged people queue up in the rain, snow, sleet, sun etc… shows just how much this sort of service is needed (as well as, hopefully, how much they enjoy our company too).

5P: How does this tie in with your faith?

HC: From an Islamic perspective we all know how important charity is. It’s a vital element of our faith. Charity is mentioned on many, many occasions in both the Quran and the Prophetic hadith. However, too many people seem to forget the general adage that charity starts at home and while they may support noble causes overseas – which is of course vitally important too – this is often done at the expense of those in need on our own doorsteps.

Furthermore, it’s all very well contributing financially to various charitable causes, but if you can also donate you time and energy, that is definitely to be encouraged too.

5P: If anyone wants to help you out how can they do it?

HC: The Children of Adam is simply a volunteer group. We rely entirely on the kindness of our dedicated volunteers who come each week bringing home-cooked food, bottles of drink, snacks, and second hand clothes to hand out. Anyone is welcome to join us, at any time. No need to register or apply to be a volunteer, just come along and get involved with actively helping our community by doing the simplest of charitable acts; just sharing food, smiles and a kind word.

You can find out more about what we do and get updates about issues relating to homelessness and charitable ideas in general on our Facebook page “Children of Adam” or contact me through Facebook.

Also here’s a link to our Just Giving page if you would like to donate to our project. 100% of all money raised goes towards items we buy and distribute to the homeless, eg. food, drink, clothes etc..

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