More than 200 people of varying faiths answered the call of a Muslim youth group to combat hunger, taking part in a walkathon through the University of Maryland, College Park, campus Sunday afternoon.
The walk, hosted by the Silver Spring-based Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Organization (Majlis Khuddam-ul Ahmadiyya, or MKA), drew in students and community members as part of the organization’s efforts to fight hunger and promote the image of Islam as a religion of peace. The walk raised more than $21,000 locally and $90,000 as part of a national campaign to raise funds for hunger-related nonprofits, according to Saima Sheikh, media associate with Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, the youth group’s parent organization.
The MKA is a service-based organization that works to promote Islam as a religion of peace through its grassroots Muslims for Peace campaign and to highlight Islam’s call to service through its Muslim Youth Against Hunger campaign, according to its website.
“We wanted to highlight the point that all religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, whatever religion we say, they are promoting the sanctity of life,” said Naseem Mahdi, vice president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. “I believe that we are all united on this issue, that we should fight against hunger, we should fight against poverty, and we should fight against terrorism and violence, especially in the name of religion.”
Mahdi said the group’s efforts also help to combat negative stereotypes of Muslims in the media.
“Naturally, with this work we are trying to bring forth the real face of Islam. The real face of Islam is not about killing innocents. It is about the teachings of promoting life and peace and helping others,” Mahdi said.
Five student organizations — Health Leads, Medlife, Food Recovery Network, Humanity First Student Organization and the Association of Indian Development — partnered with the university branch of the youth organization and brought their members to the event, said Haris Raja, 31, assistant vice president of the Ahmadiyya Community’s Muslim Youth Organization and a recent graduate from the University of Maryland.
“We want to show support and solidarity for our fellow Americans who are in need, and we want to play an active role in alleviating hunger,” Raja said. “Just in this area, we have 12 percent of the Prince George’s population who are food insecure. We are trying to combat that hunger problem with our efforts however much we can.”
Rakiba Kibria, marketing and fundraising assistant for the New York-based nonprofit organization WhyHunger, one of the organizations being aided by walk, said the nonprofit organization works with partners in the U.S. and abroad that promote healthy, nutritious food for everyone.
“Islam is rooted in volunteerism, and MKA really symbolizes it to the extreme,” Kibria said. “They’re really focusing on hunger and putting it on a positive route, so Muslim youth can have a positive impact as well.”