Chicago Muslims Give Thanks By Distributing 5,000 Turkeys

For 16 years, the Chicago Muslim community has distributed free Thanksgiving turkeys to underprivileged families on the South Side.


Volunteers with a semi-trailer full of turkeys with a banner reading “Sabeel Food Pantry” came to Woodlawn Community School in Chicago where mothers and grandmothers waiting to take one home to feed their families.

Sabeel Food Pantry is a Muslim-run pantry on the city's Northwest Side with a mission to give the poor a way to survive, a central obligation of the Muslim faith, volunteers say.

The Chicago Muslim community has distributed free Thanksgiving turkeys to underprivileged families on the South Side for 16 years but this year, they more than tripled the number of free birds and expanded the project to eight elementary schools in three neighborhoods.


The project started 16 years ago when then-special education teacher Sadia Warsi heard from a third-grader in her class that he simply wished for food in the refrigerator.

"I was shocked that in a country like ours that was a child's wish," she said.

She and her husband, Chicago attorney Kamran Memon, called on their community to help buy turkeys for children in Chicago public schools.

In 2006, Memon turned the project over to Sofia Shakir and Jihad Shoshara, longtime volunteers. Through a partnership with the Chicago-based Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, the largest halal certifier in the U.S. that also runs the Sabeel Food Pantry, Shakir was able to negotiate a wholesale price and arrange for refrigerated trucks to make the deliveries.

Shoshara said the project puts into practice Muslim teachings and fulfills one of the five pillars of Islam called zakat, or charity. For guidance, he looks to the Prophet Muhammad, who is believed to have said: "He is not a believer whose stomach is filled while the neighbor to his side goes hungry."

Shakir said it was serendipitous that it all came together after what she considered a discouraging presidential campaign.

"We are all part of the same," she said. "We're not helping others. We're helping our own."

Ironically, last year, just days before Thanksgiving, Trump proposed the government register and track Muslims in the U.S. as part of the nation's war on terror. Earlier this week, Trump's incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus said there would not be a registry based on religion but would not "rule out anything."

"These are the times we're living in now," said Victoria Bowens, chair of Woodlawn's local school council. "Those things didn't come from us. We know how it feels to be discriminated against. They were able to rise up and step up to help the less fortunate, in spite of."

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