Nov 26 2010
If you’re poor, there’s a price to pay for getting a free halal turkey dinner on Thanksgiving from the ‘Muslims Against Hunger:’ Being force fed lies about Islam.
Star Ledger – Garlic wafts in the air while sauce bubble on the stove. The kitchen clamors with young cooks preparing South Asian dishes. The women are in headscarves while the men wear hairnets covering dark curls. Some members of them layer carrots and peas into a mountain of basmati rice while others coat chickpeas in spices to create chana masala. Just before the guests arrive, the workers gather in a circle for a pep talk and a prayer to Allah.
Muslims Against Hunger has been helping struggling Jerseyans for a decade. The organization visits interfaith soup kitchens as guest chefs on a monthly basis state-wide. Food enables them to bridge the cultural divide, offering Muslim cuisine to non-Muslims in need. (I know, I know, beggars can’t be choosers)
On Thanksgiving, the group is going to make its first attempt to prepare an all-American harvest feast with halal turkey. In years past, they’ve served their standard menu for the holidays. Swapping curry for cranberries, volunteers are going to distribute big meals at a Union City Islamic school. (‘Turkey and Curry’ – just what the hungry homeless person’s mouth has been watering for all year)
Cooking is going to be a challenge because turkey is rarely eaten in South Asia and the Middle East. (And how many years have they been in this country?) Members of the kitchen crew consulted with friends and searched online for a primer on how to roast the bird. Next year, they plan to introduce a fusion: tandoori turkey. (God forbid they make a traditional turkey, that would be almost American)
“Most of our volunteers are not Thanksgiving menu types,” says Zamir Hassan, a Bedminster computer consultant who directs the program. “They come from the Middle East and India and Pakistan and their holidays are different.”
Their Thanksgiving food drive, which runs through next week, is an initiative to deliver 2,000 meals in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. Their goal is not only to feed the hungry but also to promote tolerance and offset media stereotypes.
“I try to educate people about Muslims,” says volunteer, Raza “Ali” Mansoor, 38, of Sayreville, who greets visitors at the door. “Your average person is pretty nice but they might be misinformed. A lot of groups like the tea party, I guess you’d call it a lack of education, lack of exposure.”
Hassan stresses that he hopes to teach people about Islam but there’s no agenda to convert them.
“We pushed more and more after 9/11 to educate people of other faiths,” he explains. “We want to educate the media and the public.”