Ruhel Islam is the one behind this noble idea. He knows food insecurity very well.
Growing up in Bangladesh, Islam didn’t always have access to food, let alone healthy food, an outlook that shaped his very business model. “If we all do our part, the world will be a better place,” he said.
That simple mantra has been the driving force behind Islam’s restaurant, Gandhi Mahal, a popular Indian and Bangladeshi restaurant in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood. But it’s also why Islam has received attention for his charitable works — like supporting and growing locally sourced food and building a community room in the neighborhood that anyone can use to host events.
For the last three years, during Ramadan — a month-long Muslim holiday celebrated through fasting — Islam hosts free iftar dinners every night and donates the proceeds to charity. “There’s a suggested $15 donation,” Islam said. “They can pay $15 and their money will go to good causes.”
He started the dinners two years ago, Islam said, and has raised about $3,000 each year. The money has gone towards things like creating a public prayer service during Northern Spark; helping to pay college tuition for immigrant students; or raising awareness around climate change. This year, he said, their proceeds from the dinners will go towards installing solar panels in mosques in Sierra Leone, and helping to rebuild health clinics there.
“This is a lifestyle,” Islam said. “We find our peace through this.”
Cottage Grove resident, Khadija Zeig found out about Ghandi Mahal’s iftars — the dinners where Muslims break fast — because of the charity this year. She came to help support a good cause in Africa, she said, but she left impressed with the food. “Especially after fasting, it’s the kind of food you want,” Zeig said.
Camilla Jamal, from Minneapolis, agrees, and said she started coming to the iftars after realizing how healthy the food was. “Since I started fasting Ramadan, I’ve been feeling weak because of the choices of food that I’ve been eating,” she said. “But I came here yesterday [to eat], and I actually felt okay.”
Islam said that’s just the kind of community he’s trying to build, and why he believes people from all faiths attend his iftars each year. “I’m inspired by the saying, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’” he said. “I am being the change and leading by example.”
Ghandi Mahal will continue its iftars every night at sunset, or roughly 9 p.m., through Saturday, June 24.