With Free Food and Classes on Islam, Latino Muslims Bridge Gaps in Chicago

A Latino Muslim group has been leading efforts to bridge communities in Chicago, delivering free hot meals, cleanups, as well as classes on Islam to promote fellowship and understanding.  

Every Friday night, volunteers with the Ojala Foundation pass out meals in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood on the Southwest Side, an area many people try to avoid.

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“They say, ‘Here come the Muslims’ every time we show up on Friday night to pass out food to the homeless,” said Raul Gonzalez, director of outreach for the Ojala Foundation, an organization of Latino Muslims, The Blue Mountain Eagle reported.

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“We let them know God has not forgotten about them.”

Along with free meals, the group also sponsors cleanups, provides classes on Islam and holds potlucks to promote fellowship.

“Many Hispanics that convert to Islam are lost because there are few places to teach them and guide them on how they should act as Muslims,” Gonzalez said.

“At Ojala, we offer classes to Muslims and we have fellowship, plus we do our part in helping others, restoring them to a better place.”

In 2009, only 1 percent of Muslims identified as Hispanic, according to ISPU. By 2018, it was 7 percent, according to ISPU annual report, “American Muslim Poll: Predicting and Preventing Islamophobia.”

There are 250,000 Latino Muslims in the United States, according to Islam in Spanish.

Classes are available through the foundation under Sheikh Omar Hernandez, the first Latino from North America to graduate from the Islamic University of Madinah.

“Latinos raised in the Catholic Church became disenfranchised, and some turned to Islam but sometimes leave Islam because they have no guide,” Gonzalez said, explaining the role of the Ojala Foundation.

Preaching Understanding

The classes offered through the foundation focus on the diversity of Islam.

“God made us different, but we know each other,” Gonzalez said. “We want to have a practical role in the community, and it has to start with the individual. Islam changed my heart.”

Ojala’s “Neighborly Deeds Initiative” sends Muslims to neighborhoods throughout the city, including homeless camps.

“People should not have to beg every day for food. They should not have to sleep outside with rats as big as a chihuahua, sleeping on cardboard,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t understand how people walk over the homeless to get to their sports games.

“I call it analysis paralysis,” he added. “No one wants to go help the homeless while they are there. Nobody wants to go at night. But we go.

“We don’t do this for a reward or recognition, we do it because we fear a day that’s coming. Judgment Day,” he continued. “We want our good deeds to outweigh our bad deeds, the true face of Islam. We are the kind of people your mother would invite to dinner.”

The foundation also has a prison outreach program in which members become pen pals to prisoners.

“Wouldn’t you want the guy who went to prison for whatever crime to think differently when they come out?” Gonzalez asked. “The only way we can achieve that is through our actions, not facades. Someone has to work to change it.”

Islam urges Muslims to treat their neighbors in a gentle way that reflects the true and genuine spirit of brotherhood and neighborliness in Islam, as exemplified in its tolerant aspects especially with people of other faiths.

It makes no difference whether the neighbors are Muslims or non-Muslims.