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Salima Suswell talks about the pandemic, this year’s Eid and charity as a Muslim obligation

August 24, 2020 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
Muslims believe in the “qadr” or “divine decree” of God, that everything that has happened and will happen has already been written.

This provides them with resilience vital during this COVID-19 pandemic. Philadelphia’s large Muslim community has fared relatively well during it, according to Salima Suswell, founder and executive director of the Philadelphia Ramadan & Eid Fund (PREF).

Like other faith traditions, the pandemic has impacted the way Muslim community members worship. Many aspects of Islamic faith and worship involve communal gathering — from the five congregational daily prayers, Friday (Jumu’ah) Prayer services, Funerals (Janaazah), Ramadan Iftar Dinners, to large Eid celebrations like the Philly Eid in the Park Festival (attended in 2019 by over 15,000 community members) adjustments were made to honor religious obligations while adhering to safety measures.

Suswell said that many Muslim families have found peace in spending more time at home together. At the beginning of Ramadan, there was angst in her community with many wondering, “How will we celebrate Ramadan and Eid while observing social-distancing and stay at home orders?”

By the end of Ramadan, many community members mentioned to Suswell that it was their best Ramadan ever because of the love and unity shown to support each other.

“Many communities established alternatives that were safe and offered the opportunity to celebrate the joys of Ramadan and Eid in the spirit of peace that is promoted in the religion of Islam,” she said.

For the Eid holidays, as an alternative to its Philly Eid in the Park Festival, PREF introduced “Eid Meals on Wheels & Family Fun” program, which delivered catered halal dinners and gift bundles to local Muslim families.

In addition, in lieu of its annual citywide Ramadan Iftar Dinner PREF, along with its partners — Amerihealth Caritas, Keystone First, Islamic Relief USA, Brown’s Shoprite, and SHARE Food Program — offered weekly community food distributions which included fresh produce, halal meats, and PPE (masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, etc.) to thousands of families, according to Suswell.

Giving charity is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is Suswell’s moral obligation as a woman of faith, she said.  It is personal for her because her family relied on local charities at times while growing up, and there were no charities that specifically focused on supporting Muslims in need at the time.

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“I can recall occasions when my mother received toys and Eid gifts for my siblings and I at the Salvation Army which we greatly appreciated,” Suswell said.

“Later, my mother became a community organizer and leader that gives back by assisting in revitalizing many communities across this city,” she added.

For Suswell’s family and community, giving “sadaqah” (the Arabic word for charity) isn’t looked upon as remarkable and oftentimes charity is given in anonymity.

“Today, there are many Muslim-led local organizations including over 50 mosques citywide that have charitable offerings of food, clothing, and monetary support available for families.”

She named Masjidullah: The Center for Human Excellence, Muslims Serve, United Ummah of Philadelphia, and Sadaqah 4 You among the Muslim philanthropic organizations that serve communities across Philadelphia.

“For practicing Muslims, you are either giving charity or receiving it. There really is nothing in-between. From volunteering time sharing professional talents to distributing food and supplies to those in need, Muslims are motivated by a moral sense of responsibility to give back to the community at-large,” she said.

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