Fasting During Ramadan Provides an Opportunity to Act Against Hunger
As droughts swelter in the American Midwest and the Sahel region of Africa, Muslims across the United States are called to celebrate Ramadan. This month of fasting and spiritual reflection continues until August 19, providing a timely reminder of the increasing number of hungry people suffering during this time of climate and economic uncertainty. The prayerful deprivation of food during Ramadan should be connected to the lives of nearly a billion people who are hungry every day.
It is heartening to see such compassion fueling the fight against hunger. This year’s Ramadan fast comes at a critical moment for many Americans. According to the latest census, more than 17 million U.S. households are food insecure. Nearly one in four children in our country is at risk of going to bed hungry. Harmful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the food stamp program) have been proposed in versions of the 2012 Farm Bill currently being considered before Congress. SNAP helps 46 million Americans put food on the table; the cuts would prove devastating for so many in need.
Opponents of SNAP and other federal nutrition programs say it should be the responsibility of charities to feed hungry people; however, less than 5 percent of food assistance for poor people comes from charities. In fact, most food assistance comes from government nutrition programs like SNAP. While food banks do their best to feed these families, the reality is that the problem is too large: we cannot food bank our way out of hunger.
In addition to our struggles at home, widespread drought and food crises spanning the Sahel and the Horn regions in Africa affect approximately 35 million people. Though humanitarian aid has reached some of these areas, more work needs to be done. U.S. foreign assistance programs have been effective in improving conditions for millions of people, despite the fact that funding for these programs comprises less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
We must urge our political leaders to support programs that help vulnerable people here in the United States and abroad. Decisions made this summer by the United States Congress will resonate in households across the globe.
To provide guidance and political will for people to take action this holy month, a network of organizations, led by Islamic Relief USA and The Alliance to End Hunger, have combined resources to publish a Ramadan Action Guide. The guide raises awareness about hunger and provides Muslims, and all people, with tools for change.
This action guide taps into the energy that surrounds the Muslim community and focuses specifically on ending the suffering that so many people experience due to lack of food and nutrition. It includes background information on international and domestic hunger, as well as tips on advocacy and raising public awareness. It also contains a section on care and compassion, ideas that are essential to understanding how spiritual development translates into compassionate action.
Throughout the year, Muslims are called to submit to and serve God through prayer, charity, community building, and service to people in need. In addition to spiritual reflection, the month of Ramadan reminds us of the need to fix systems that perpetuate social injustices.
As a period of reflection, Ramadan is an apt occasion to reinvigorate the multifaith, bipartisan commitment to protecting domestic nutrition programs and poverty-focused development assistance. Religious leaders and faith-based organizations are particularly well positioned to speak up for the needs of hungry people.
This year’s Ramadan Action Guide is a call to hope for a hunger-free future.
Tony Hall, Executive Director of the Alliance to End Hunger, represented Ohio’s Third District in U.S. Congress for 24 years and served as U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture.
Abed Ayoub is the CEO of Islamic Relief USA.
(Photo by Flickr user jlastras)
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