Since 2008, the Muslim Student Association has helped feed many homeless around Monroe Park with Project Downtown, attracting a diverse number of students to provide community service.
Last week’s event was slightly different, since the weather had moved many homeless to local shelters; but this did not deter many members showing up to instead provide food and hot chocolate to students passing by the Baptist Collegiate Ministries building.
Project Downtown is always after the Jumm’ah prayer on Friday, which is a prayer given in the afternoon and is usually followed by practitioners conducting some kind of community service.
“Jumm’ah, (which is) the Arabic word for Friday, is viewed as the most virtuous day of the week in Islam,” said Azza Hussein, one of the community service chairs of the MSA. “It is viewed as a day where prayers are accepted, and good deeds are encouraged.”
During the prayer, the Iman, or the worship leader, will usually remind the congregation about the importance of good deeds in a Muslim’s life.
Faisal Alshareif and Hussein are responsible for setting up events for the MSA such as sporting events, celebrating religious holidays and other community service projects like Project Downtown.
“These reminders help ignite a sense of responsibility towards our community, leading to a collaboration of a big crowd under the same umbrella of community service,” Hussein said about the importance of the Jumm’ah.
“I try to find opportunities for everyone on campus to indulge in, especially volunteer work,” Alshareif said.
The MSA is one of the largest organizations at VCU and has received many awards for community service and even religious student organization of the year. Being so large, the MSA also has the added responsibility of representing the Muslim population of VCU.
Hussein said that the organization serves as a great tool to voice their concerns to the “higher authorities” at VCU.
“(The MSA) also acts as a major force to better represent the Muslim community and clear some of the unnecessary stereotypes that the media can portray at times,” Alshareif said.
Both Hussein and Alshareif also view the association as a “safe haven” for VCU’s Muslim population.
“It makes sure they (Muslims) feel comfortable outside of their homes,” Alshareif said.
Hussein added that having a group like the MSA to represent Muslim students really helps “in humanizing the image of Muslims.” Alshareif also said non-Muslim students are encouraged to consider participating in MSA sponsored events too.
“It’s not something you have to apply for, one you’ve gone to a few meetings, most of the students treat you like you’re one of them,” Alshareif said.
The MSA holds Project Downtown at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at around 2:15 every Friday. For more information on the organization and Islam in general, go to their website at http://www.vcumsa.org/.
Samuel Goodrich, Contributing Writer