Gift of faith: a day off at Christmas
Building bridges … volunteers from Al-Ghazzali Centre
in Roselands at work.
IN THE kitchen a row of six women wearing hijabs dice vegetables and slice fruit. Nearby another group of young Muslim women are tearing open packets of pasta by the dozen and throwing them into a huge pot of boiling water. Across the room, two young men wearing skullcaps are stirring a sizeable pan of beef curry.
Aiming to give their Christian counterparts from the charity Just Enough Faith the day off, the dedicated Muslim volunteers spent most of Christmas Day preparing and distributing homecooked meals to more than 500 homeless men and women at Cook and Phillip Park.
The volunteers come from Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences and Human Development, in Roselands, and see their role as building bridges between the faiths. Christmas has no significance in the Islamic religious calendar.
The founder of the centre, Imam Afroz Ali, said the initiative, called the Crescent Program, was unusual because it involved an Islamic organisation doing charity work for non-Muslims.
"This service is directly for our Australian brothers and sisters," Mr Ali said. "What has made this successful is that the younger generation, particularly Muslims who were born here, have been dying to do something like this.
"Their parents, the older generation, still have connections back to their places of birth overseas, so a lot of charity goes back there, and there is no hiding from that. But Islam requires us to provide charitable services in our own neighbourhood first. So we have to do this as Muslims, right here in Australia, regardless of gender, race or religion."
Al-Ghazzali Centre has funded and run the service one Saturday a month since early 2003 and the Christmas Day offering allows the centre's counterparts time off on one of the most important days of the Christian calendar.
Mr Ali said his non-profit centre had 500 volunteers registered to help with the Crescent project in rotation. The group also undertakes hospital visits, delivers water to drought-stricken rural areas and runs food awareness programs.
Mr Ali paid tribute to the Just Enough Faith organisation, whose facilities his centre uses to prepare and distribute the food. Run by Jeff and Alina Gambin, it has operated kitchens and vans to feed Sydney's homeless since July 1994.
"[And] it's not just the cooking once a month, either," said Mr Gambin. "They are part of us. I'll pick up a phone and ring Afroz and say I need a plumber, and he'll get one."
In another room eight Muslim volunteers - aged from five to their twenties - are busily packing chocolates into small plastic bags as gifts for the people they feed.
After starting work at midday, most were planning to go out last night to help hand out the food to Sydney's forgotten, and they didn't expect to be finished until after 10pm.