LAST weekend, on a beautiful sunny evening, some friends and I walked along the Strand, the home of London’s theatre land, towards the Zimbabwean embassy here.
From a distance, we could hear the catchy sounds of African music and songs before we were greeted by a group of Zimbabwean diaspora holding a protest and enjoying themselves while doing so.
Nearby, under a cluster of trees, several members of a charity group from a Muslim organisation called Who is Hussain were setting up their tables to put snacks, fruits and drinks for the homeless here.
A line of London’s less fortunate, some with their worldly possessions packed in one or two laundry bags or black beanbags, was already snaking their way to the front.
They were waiting patiently for the food to arrive.
This is London, where people are left to protest peacefully without being disturbed, where volunteers and volunteer groups promote their cause and give back to society.
We joined the volunteers to put take-away containers of rice, vegetable curry and omelette on the tables.
Sharizah Hashim, who runs the Malaysian eatery, Dapur, in nearby Holborn, had prepared about 140 packets to be distributed to the homeless.
She does this on every Saturday of the month with the help of her group of close-knit friends and never-ending supply of student volunteers.
That Saturday, even though it was the month of Ramadan, volunteers from the Malaysian student community here arrived to peel boxes of butternut squash, help in the kitchen and put the cooked food in containers, ready to be delivered to one of the popular sites for the homeless.
Judging by the line that kept growing longer, not to mention those loitering around the sidewalk, these were not enough.
But, not too far behind, another Muslim group, whose members are recognisable from their blue T-shirt that said “I am A Muslim — Ask Me Anything”, were already offloading food from the boots of their cars.
Like any other day, the homeless here will be fed, thanks to people like Sharizah and some Muslim and Christian charity groups.
The city here has an estimated 8,000 people sleeping rough and this number is increasing.
The majority of them are men aged between 26 and 55; some migrants from central and eastern European countries.
The rice with masak lemak and telur dadar that Sharizah and her team of volunteers had prepared would be a novelty to some, but nevertheless a welcome sight for their hungry tummies.
“It all started after coming back from Calais. I had always wanted to do something similar in London. Feeding the less fortunate in the capital.
“However, I didn’t know how to go about doing it,” said Sharizah, an accountant, who gave up her job for her love of cooking.
Calais, or rather the Jungle of Calais, was where thousands of immigrants from war-torn and troubled countries, like Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea, found temporary shelter.
It was also where a Malaysian husband-and-wife team, Sofinee and Jamalulail, set up their “Kitchen in Calais” to feed thousands of refugees.
Sharizah, some friends and I had gone there to do our bit, and that had inspired her to pursue her dream and feed the homeless here.
After much researching, Sharizah and her friends teamed up with Who is Hussain, sharing not only tables, but also a mission to help the less fortunate.
“The main reason for doing this is purely for sedekah — providing basic needs to those who need them the most in the only way I know how — food,” said Sharizah.
Needless to say, the food packets disappeared in no time.
Some wanted more. While some were in rags and obviously in need of a bath, some were quite smartly dressed and must have had held some position in office before being thrown out along with their belongings in their luggage.
Times are hard and proving to be harder. None were fussy. Although one or two haggled with the young hijabi girl next to me for a Penguin chocolate biscuit instead of a Mars bar.
While the intention of all around delivering food and feeding the homeless that day was mainly to ease the burden of the less fortunate here, it was also aimed at projecting the other face of Islam in the wake of attacks that had been carried out in the name of Islam.
“What’s happened in London recently is not Islamic and no Muslims condone such behaviour. Violence and brutality is never in the teachings of Islam,” said Sharizah.
“It is more important that we show and prove that our religion and beliefs are not about random killings and violence. It is about humanity, tolerance and compassion. This is what I want everyone to know about our religion,” said the accountant-turned-chef and volunteer.
Sharizah financed the costs of the food through her shop’s income. Her circle of friends; some of whom she had known since her schooldays, had tirelessly donated to the cause and she had also managed to rope in her supplier, who provided supplies at a minimum cost for the sake of charity.
When the food packets were all distributed, out came secondhand clothes, shoes and necessities — these, too, were snapped up.
In the wake of what had happened in the United Kingdom and in some cities in Europe, humanitarian efforts like this by Muslims are one way to show the world that Islam is about caring and giving no matter who the recipients are.
It may prove to be hard work in the face of abuse and retaliation that some in the community are facing, but that is going to deter people like Sharizah and her friends.