Amongst the most basic needs of human existence is sustenance. God talks about this in different places in the Qur’an emphasizing that all people must eat and drink and that even the Messengers who were sent to mankind ate and drank (Qur’an 5:75). He also mentions in various places in the Qur’an that He has provided for mankind sustenance from various sources and that His generosity is abundant (Qur’an 11:6). Nonetheless, we still see much starvation and hunger around the world. In fact, roughly a quarter of children worldwide are stunted in brain and body growth because of malnutrition. In a country like India, this rate actually reaches to 48% of all children in the country. When we consider these statistics in light of the previous verses, we know that we are not talking about a material crisis; rather we are talking about a moral crisis.
The Qur’an addresses the urgency of feeding the poor in many different places and in many different ways. It says multiple times that feeding the poor is an evidence of true belief (Qur’an 90:14, 89:18, 107:3). It talks about feeding the poor as expiation for certain misdeeds (Qur’an 58:4, 2:184). These verses put extra emphasis on the importance of this issue and show that it is foundational in the development and realization of faith, a part of which is to acknowledge the needs of our brothers and sisters in humanity. These verses are also general in relation to all of mankind and not Muslims alone.
When the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) first received the revelation, he was in a state of bewilderment. He ran home to his wife and told her to cover him up and explained what had happened to him. Her response was quick and measured, “Allah will never disgrace you. You unite family relations, you bear the burden of the weak, you help the poor and the needy, you entertain the guests and endure hardships in the path of truthfulness.” This was the way that she described her blessed husband, and one of these descriptions was that he helped the poor and the needy.
When some of the Muslims fled to Abyssinia to escape the discrimination they were facing, they sought refuge under a just king who asked them what their message was about. In explaining the message of Islam, one of the things mentioned was the rights of the poor and giving charity.
Sometimes we think that poverty and hunger are problems that only affect other areas of the world but are not local issues for American Muslims. This is an incorrect understanding. If we are to take California as an example, especially considering that it is generally considered a wealthier state, we see some interesting figures. Almost 23% of children in California are living in poverty. Roughly 16% of households are suffering food insecurity, meaning they have difficulty finding enough to eat. Almost 47 million Americans (nearly 15% of the population) rely on government support through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) in order to try and fulfill their basic nutritional needs. Almost 60% of students in schools across America receive free lunches in order to supplement the limited food available at home. All of these figures show that hunger is a serious issue not only worldwide, but here in the United States . So what do we do?
We are starting a local campaign which we hope will be picked up by communities nationwide. Basically, we are calling on people to Stamp Out Hunger by taking a food stamp challenge. During this challenge participants are to limit their daily spending on food to what they would be able to purchase if they were on food stamps. This means no fast food, no prepared food, and no more than four dollars per day. The campaign will last from March 4th to 15th and we hope that communities all over the country will hold locally organized and hosted town halls on hunger and poverty at the end of the twelve days on March 15th. Throughout the campaign we ask our brothers and sisters to share their experiences and stories on Facebook and Twitter (@stamphunger). We hope that this short experience will help us to build empathy for those that are suffering from hunger and that it will help initiate discussions about our role as people of faith in dealing with these issues and how our choices impact the world around us.