To try and help, a small group of undergraduate students from Georgetown University recently took the initiative to help the homeless individuals in their neighborhoods. I worked with other students from the Muslim community at Georgetown to organize a service project delivering “winter packages” to the homeless. These packages included winter necessities such as fleece blankets, scarves, gloves, hats, hand warmers, and socks and hygienic items such as toothbrushes, toothpastes, hand sanitizers, deodorants, and chapstick. The initial motivation for this project came during one of the nightly congregational prayers held in the Muslim prayer room (Musallah) on campus. Upon reviewing a hadith (saying/teaching of the Prophet Muhammad) about service to others after our congregational prayer, many of us accepted that we must do more for the community. Personally, I had been focusing on my papers and finals and performing my five daily prayers, while overlooking what Islam teaches me about serving others. The following verse is one of the many instances in the Qur'an in which Muslims are commanded to do good for others: “And spend in the way of Allah and do not throw [yourselves] with your [own] hands into destruction [by refraining]. And do good; verily, Allah loves those who do good.”(2:195) I wasn’t sure if I had been following such commands.
As other students also conceded that they had been forgetful about serving the community, we collectively decided that providing the homeless with winter necessities was a priority. We were able to spread awareness about this issue and raise funds at the weekly Jum'ah (Friday) prayer services on campus. Volunteers went into different parts of the community, such as along M Street on Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Farragut West, and Rosslyn to deliver the packages. As I handed out a few of these packages to some homeless individuals around Dupont Circle, it was more than just their gratitude that impacted me. It was the conversations I had with them that left a lasting impression on me.
One particular individual I encountered informed me that he had enough supplies to survive this upcoming winter and that I should instead give the package to someone else in the community who might need it more. Although it was clear from my conversation with him that he only had a few warm pieces of clothing and very limited supplies otherwise, he insisted that there were people in the area he knew personally that needed the package far more than he did. He was ready to sacrifice his own comfort for that of others. His sacrifice prompted me to reflect on another hadith of the Prophet, “none of you truly believes until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”
A few minutes later it started raining. A homeless man asked me if the winter packages contained an umbrella—unfortunately, they didn’t. I was, however, holding up my umbrella, and handed it to him. The previous individual I spoke with had really inspired me to give from what I love. I did love my umbrella. Growing up in California, I was used to the sunshine and often carried an umbrella if there was any chance of rain. Participating in this service project not only allowed to serve my community, but also allowed me to grow within my own faith of Islam. As a Muslim, I understand that doing service does not end at simply improving the conditions of others. Service is one of the best ways of showing my devotion to God. It is one of the best ways for me to please God.
When we began this project, most of us students were merely acquaintances, coming from different backgrounds and ethnicities. Over the course of the project, we grew really close, held together by the common thread of Islam and serving others. We agreed that it is important to come together as a group to organize such projects in the future. It is easy as individuals in school to forget about our responsibilities to the community. However as a group, we can constantly remind one another and create opportunities for individuals to help serve the community. This service project served as a significant reminder to me about the need to address homelessness in our local communities. It is important for us to sometimes leave the comforts of our homes in order to help bring warmth to our neighbors.