At a time when the Donald Trump administration is vilifying immigrants and Muslims for problems in the United States, there are some working to combat the White House’s discriminatory policies. Others are showing just how unfounded this prejudice is.
Who is Hussain? is an international non-profit working for social justice through community service.
The organization takes its name from Hussain ibn Ali, a 7th-century revolutionary and the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. According to legend, he shirked his princely status to help the poor and fight for social justice. He was even killed for speaking truth to tyranny.
Who is Hussain? seeks to educate people about the man who inspired their movement and continue his altruistic legacy. Though the organization was founded by Muslims, it welcomes contributions and partnerships from all religions. The development of interfaith relationships and cooperation is integral to its goals.
“I want to give in a way that Hussain would have given in this day and time,” Asra Rizvi, team leader of the New York City/New Jersey Chapter (NYC/NJ), told Global Citizen. “There’s a time to be religious and there’s a time to be just a human being. You’re an atheist, you’re a monotheist — it doesn’t matter.”
The flagship group, based in London, feeds the homeless every week.
The NYC/NJ chapter also does quarterly food drives. Last December, their winter drive also collected warm clothing and distributed it to the less fortunate.
On March 18, the morning after St. Patrick’s Day, when most people were recovering from the previous night’s (afternoon’s and maybe morning’s) celebration, they were up early hosting a blood drive at Promise Land Church in the Bronx.
The North American operation isn’t limited to the east coast. Last August, Who is Hussain? handed out clothing and water to flood victims in Louisiana. The organization also donated 30,000 water bottles to Flint, Michigan to help ease the crisis there.
Beyond these pragmatic campaigns that bring about tangible benefits, they also perform smaller, more symbolic gestures that bring people together, like handing out 500 roses to complete strangers for International Peace Day.
Who is Hussain? is staffed almost entirely by volunteers whose devotion to public service goes beyond the organization’s office hours. Furwa Jawad, for instance, is a high school special education teacher.
In addition to her full time job, she’s currently publishing a book called “The Story of My Suffering,” a collection of short stories from people who endured abusive childhoods because one or more of their parents were mentally ill.
“We have been working really hard to raise awareness about what happens when we don’t talk about such uncomfortable topics,” Jawad said.
Rizvi is currently earning a master’s degree in clinical psychology and works in mental health.
She and Jawad are both involved with the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) which works to support individuals living with mental illness. Who is Hussain? is organizing a walk in support of NAMI on May 6.
Somewhere between her work as an educator, her work as an emerging author, and her affiliation with other service organizations, Jawad still managed to organize Who is Hussain?’s last blood drive.
In spite of their hectic schedules, getting people to show up for events is far from Who is Hussein?’s greatest headache.
“The biggest challenge is staying non-political,” Rizvi said. “As an organization we’re trying to figure out the line between politics and humanity. That line is getting very blurred.”