Once a month, clients dining at Food and Shelter get lunch with a Middle Eastern twist. The first Friday of the month, the Islamic Society of Norman serves food provided from an area restaurant as part of a spiritual belief in service to the community.
The December menu included herbed chicken, rice with vermicelli, salad and baklava for dessert.
“This is from the mosque and us Muslims,” Abdul Basir said. “We are obligated to serve.”
“And to help people as much as we can,” Abdul Kelani said. “We consider ourselves part of the community.”
Basir served the chicken and the rice, while Kelani added salad and dessert to the lunch trays or to-go boxes, depending on client request.
Clients sit at long, cafeteria-style tables. At the end of one table, a smiling baby in a high chair is fed by mom and dad. At another table, a client with gray-streaked hair gently teases the woman beside him. It’s a diverse group of folks breaking bread together. While many eat on premises, others get to-go boxes.
“We’re averaging about 235 people a day,” Executive Director April Heiple said. “If you add in seconds, that’s about 400 meals.”
Heiple said not all lunch and breakfast clients at Food and Shelter are homeless. Some come because they are having trouble making ends meet. By the time they pay rent, they don’t have enough money left for food.
“We have 10 to 12 days per month where we could still use help providing meals,” Heiple said.
Heiple said several churches and other groups help with the meals. One church does a popular Thai stir fry each month, and many clients enjoy the Middle Eastern cuisine supplied by the mosque. All help is appreciated.
Dr. Mudassir Nawaz is an organizer of the monthly meal, which Norman Muslims have provided for the past year or so, since a lady from the mosque recognized that more groups were needed to help with daily meals at the shelter.
“Our goal was to provide them the food that we eat and quality food,” Nawaz said. “People from the mosque contribute to help with the cost. We provide food from a very good restaurant.”
A mosque is a Muslim place of worship, but it is also a community of believers who are part of the larger Norman community. The group uses different area restaurants each month.
“I think it’s our duty,” Nawaz said. “I’m a physician; one time I came here and some of my patients were here.”
Nawaz said it’s important to reach out and serve the broader community in need, especially now when there is so much negative press about Muslims.
“Planes fly every day,” he said, “but we only hear reports of plane crashes. We only hear negative news.”
Nawaz said Muslims must not be invisible within their communities, lest all people know is the bad news they hear on television.
“There are so many good things Muslims do that aren’t reported in the media,” Nawaz said.
He said ICNA Relief USA, a Muslim disaster relief group, works throughout the U.S.
In addition to disaster relief, group’s programs include family support, a national crisis hotline, a women’s shelter, temporary housing, hunger prevention, burial assistance, health clinics and Back-2-School giveaways.
“When we had the big tornado in Moore, they came for that,” Nawaz said. “They have opened a free clinic in Oklahoma City.”
Nawaz said the group hopes to open a free clinic in Norman in the future.
“Whatever limited resources we have, we want to be part of social services and relief work,” Nawaz said.
Norman has been supportive toward its Muslim residents, Nawaz said. After Sept. 11, many in the community reached out through letters of support and other gestures. There is a man in the community who collects coins he finds on the street. He brought a bag of coins and a letter of support to the mosque.
Nawaz moved to Norman a decade ago from a small town in West Virginia.
“The reason I came here was Norman’s size,” he said. “It has a mosque and a university. That’s all a family needs to grow.”
Muslims eat kosher food and that’s what the group brings each first Friday as part of the healthy food they serve at Food and Shelter.
“Everybody can eat this food,” Nawaz said.
He said the group cares about quality and is willing to pay to see the Food and Shelter clients have good food. Islam teaches peace, he said, and that’s what they want people to know about Norman’s Muslim residents.