May 7, 2007

Islamic Event Serves Up Charity_ USA

Islamic Event Serves Up Charity

By NICOLA M. WHITE The Tampa Tribune

Published: May 7, 2007

TAMPA - If your neighbor goes to bed hungry, you should not sleep.

That's what the Prophet Mohammed tells followers of Islam. And that's why hundreds of Muslims gathered in Riverfront Park on Sunday afternoon to grill hamburgers, dish out plates of vegetable biryani and give clothes and health screenings to the area's needy for the 10th annual Islamic Charity Festival.

"Islam tells us - actually commands us - to help the poor. This is our way of giving back to the community, in a dignified way," said Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations. "This is our way of sharing and connecting."

The Tampa Bay Muslim Alliance, a coalition of more than 20 Muslim groups, organized the festival, which focused on helping the community without preaching or proselytizing.

Anyone, regardless of faith, could stroll into Riverfront Park, feast on spicy stewed chicken or old-fashioned American hamburgers and pick up a bag or two of clothes or even a bicycle. Festive music played in the background, a clown offered face painting for children.

"I come back every year," said Hershell Roberson, 52, who sat on a shady bench and tucked into a plate of Palestinian-style baked chicken and rice mixed with ground beef. A backpack under the bench held his belongings. He is homeless.

Both Roberson and his friend, Doyle Williams, 55, filled a bag with free shirts and planned to hit the hamburger line later in the afternoon.

"I think this Muslim festival is great," Roberson said.

That Islam is cast in a positive light during the festival is another bonus, said Husain Nagamia, chairman of the alliance that organized the event.

"This is also a platform where we can express to the community what Islam is all about. People have stereotyped Islam to a lot of different things. We would like people to know we are everyday American citizens," Nagamia said.

Islam also is a diverse religion, evidenced by the food from the Middle East as well as India and Pakistan - and St. Petersburg.

Wilmore Sadiki, the imam at the St. Petersburg Islamic Center, converted to Islam 25 years ago and now leads a mostly black American mosque.

His congregants manned the barbecue smokers and wore T-shirts with the slogan, "Putting the 'neighbor' back in the hood," to emphasize the good works he says are an integral part of the Muslim faith.

"This is what churches do, this is what synagogues do," he said. "This is what we do."

Reporter Nicola M. White can be reached at
(813) 779-4613 or

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