The effort started last Ramadan when a group of Muslim taxi and limo drivers, at the behest of Imam Talib Shareef of Masjid Muhammad, volunteered their time by driving seniors free of cost across the city. Masjid Muhammad in Washington D.C. is the home to the oldest African-American Muslim community in the United States.
This was one part of a long term ‘geo-spatial’ program for seniors called Kibar Senior Center located at Masjid Muhammad. This program includes transportation, real estate planning and other legal needs, health counseling including nutrition and an onsite day care. Kibar means seniors in Turkish and old age in Arabic.
Imam Shareef says that Masjid Muhamamad had wanted to do something for seniors of all faiths for a while. They conducted a survey last year on the needs of seniors. Transportation was one of the identified needs, as many cannot drive anymore.
According to the National Center of Senior Transportation, many seniors see the use of a taxicab as a luxury and are reluctant to treat themselves to such an extravagance. A senior’s access can be limited by the impression of many taxi drivers that older adults are not money- makers and may require assistance that keeps drivers from other fares. These Muslim drivers, eager to earn eternal rewards, answered the city’s dispatcher calls from seniors at no cost to the city, during the last ten days of Ramadan.
Initially the city did not have funding for such a program, but impressed with the Ramadan Taxi program and Imam Shareef’s work in the Mayor’s Interfaith Council, the city found the resources to fund the center under the auspice of the DC Office of Aging (DOA). The DOA’s newest nutrition site will offer nutritious Halal meals to area residents. The opening of the Kibar Senior Center will be the first center serving the Muslim community as part of the Office on Aging Senior Service Network.
This Halal nutrition center is the first in the nation’s capitol and perhaps the country sponsored by the government in partnership with a masjid says Imam Shareef. The site will be the first to serve the Truxton Circle and Bates Area neighborhoods in Ward 5 and is located on 1519 Islamic Way, NW and is open to open for D.C residents of all faiths, 60 years and older, Monday through Friday.
The site was officially opened in early June by Dr. John Thompson, Executive Director of the District's Office on Aging. Along with Dr. Thompson and key staff, Joseph Resch, the Chief Executive Director of Seabury Resources for the Aging , the District's site contractor for Ward 5 attended the opening, which will provide other supportive services.
The imam recognized the work of Ahmad Nurriddin, the brother ‘who set the pace and performed the footwork required for this project’ as well as other volunteers.
The program takes place between 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the lower level of Masjid Muhammad in the Multipurpose center. Lunch is served between 12:00 and 1:00. These seniors would normally be home without anyone to socialize with. Now they walk over to the center and enjoy each other’s company as well as the activities organized by the center. Many come from Southeast D.C and Northeast D.C using city transportation, most are at walking distance. The maximum capacity is for 75 seniors.
“Our neighborhood Commissioner, Joyce Robinson-Paul has been coming in every single day,” says Imam Talib Shareef, interviewing with the Muslim Link. “She is excited and is bringing people of other faith to the masjid.”
Some were hesitant about coming into a masjid. “Our purpose is service but dawah [naturally] occurs. When they interact with Muslims hear the adhan, it changes their thinking,” says Imam Shareef.
Some Muslim brothers and sisters bring their parents who are not yet Muslims. “I love the fact that they are getting to see the essence of Prophet Muhammad’s character. Masjid Muhammad urges community members to volunteer, displaying decency and exemplary character,” said Imam Shareef.
The menu by Sweet Tooth catering, the Muslim owned sub-contracted caterer who also runs the famous cake and pastry business Sweet Tooth Cakes & Pastries, includes nutritional meals that are different every day including a variety of sandwiches, vegetables and greens. Steve Thomas, owner of Sweeth Tooth, said he was "delighted to be able to provide halal and healthy meals" to seniors in DC. Every meal was vetted by a city nutritionist. The city had never had a taste testing for a nutritional center. Masjid Muhammad asked for one so the food met their standards and were granted a taste test.
“We really wanted to something for all the people in the city,” says Imam Shareef, “we asked ourselves what we can do for service. Allah doesn't need anything, we are created for the service of his people,” says Imam Shareef.
During the month of Ramadan, those who are not fasting will get their free meals during regular hours. Meals for seniors who are fasting will be served during iftar time.