As Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, commenced last weekend, I saw people from all over the world embark on a period of focalized dedication, worship, and reverence for their God. Something I saw on Twitter sums up the month for me quite nicely:
With all of this buzz, I can’t help but remember a conversation a friend and I had with Kazi Mannan, the owner of Sakina Halal Grill, a restaurant located on 11th and K Street in NW Washington, DC. We read an article about him and wanted to meet the Muslim-American restaurant owner who feeds the homeless for free. Formerly known as the Mayur Kabob House, Sakina Halal Grill is a buffet-style Pakistani/Indian restaurant, which is attached to a United Methodist Church.
When we got to the restaurant, my friend Sharai and I ate and ate and ate! However, between mouthfuls of food, we got to meet the man behind the mission and learn some key principles that motivated us to keep demonstrating love wherever we find ourselves. Here are the five biggest takeaways from our conversation:
1. Love Is Fearless
During the opening of his restaurant, Mannan invited the homeless to celebrate with him and eat for free. His friends warned him that homeless people are mentally unwell, ex-convicts, dangerous, etc. But Mannan insisted that he would welcome them without fear – without fear for his reputation or property. Why? He explained that he had talked to God about this and received confirmation in his spirit that this is what God wanted him to do. God wanted him to use this celebration as a means to impact those in his community who, although they needed love, were often overlooked.
Mannan freely chooses to engage and love those in society who have been largely disregarded and neglected. Mannan’s fearless love touched and keeps touching lives. More than 6,000 homeless people have eaten for free in his restaurant. He got to a place in his life where he stopped listening to the noise and fears of others. He trusted in his own faith and calling, and allowed his love to trump fear and impact his local community.
“If I didn’t touch your heart in a way that incites you to action, then I’m not doing something right.” -K. Mannan
2. Love Is Community
I was surprised by all of the people who came into Sakina Halal Grill and who seemed to know Mannan very well. I learned from Mannan that while one of his sons helps at the restaurant, his wife and other children are still back in Pakistan. He explained that many people who frequent his restaurant have become a new type of family for him. Mannan introduced my friend and I to one such person, Reverend Alison Dunn-Almaguer from the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN). As an Associate Organizer at WIN, she helps uphold the mission of this multi-racial, multi-faith, and strictly non-partisan organization to train neighborhood leaders on addressing community issues and holding elected and corporate officials accountable in Washington, D.C. She crossed paths with Mannan and now they both collaboratively reach out to the D.C. community.
“God will ignite our hearts to see people living their love and allow us to join them as well.” -K. Mannan
Mannan then went on to share a story of another person who had entered his restaurant as a stranger and left as a member of his family. One evening, a homeless man came to Sakina Halal Grill in search of food and shelter. After eating his meal, Mannan discovered that the man had nowhere to stay for the night. He insisted that the man spend the night at his house instead of on the streets. The homeless man was so touched and grateful, that over the next weeks he performed construction projects for the restaurant. Mannan informed us that they still keep in touch and that today that man is no longer homeless and raising his own family. Mannan demonstrated that an expression of love is finding commonalities with strangers and forming a family that extends beyond blood, ethnic group, religion, social class, or political affiliation.
3. Love Is A Gift
According to Mannan, love is something that God freely gives to him. God continuously performs miracles and provides for him in ways he never imagined possible. He strongly believes that God will keep opening doors in one’s life, and that when someone dedicates his or her love for others, God will take care of that person.
As I was getting my food from the buffet bar, I noticed that the man behind me in line was homeless. I saw Mannan go over to him, tell him to get as much food as he wanted, and then to make himself comfortable in the dining room. After settling down at my own table, Mannan came over and told us a bit about that homeless man, Antoine. It turns out that Antoine comes regularly to the restaurant and this day he tried to pay Mannan $10 for his meal, because of all the love he had been shown. You see, not only did Mannan give this man (and countless other homeless individuals who come through his doors) free food and even sometimes money but also companionship. Despite language barriers and cultural differences, Mannan was able to give his time and attention to Antoine. Over time, Mannan became Antoine’s encourager and confidant. This is just one example of the many lives he touches.
“My work, my food, my restaurant are acts of worship.” -K. Mannan
So yes, love is a gift. It’s something that we receive and then must give out. It’s the ability to lend our ears to those who are disregarded and neglected in society. Even if we can’t give our money or other physical resources, we should always strive to give dignity and acceptance to everyone, even if it’s not socially acceptable.
4. Love Is Action
People say that talk is cheap, and that actions speak louder than words. This truth is especially evident when we talk about love. A love that is often spoken but never felt is not love at all. Mannan explained that love is strong, and that the power of love is activated when we put it into action. This is what he calls putting our lives into action. We need to have a great heart for humanity and reach out to those who are around us. You never know who may be suffering, lonely, or just in need of a kind word or a gentle (holy!) touch. Active love is transformational, breaks down walls, and transcends borders.
“My mission is to get people to ACT their love; mere speech isn’t enough.” -K. Mannan
5. Love Is Selfless
Love is simple. On its own it’s not complicated at all. That’s not to say that it is easy to love. I admit that to actually love others (and sometimes even myself) can be quite difficult. We are naturally self-centered and thus not always willing to put others first.
Mannan used a great analogy to describe how selfless love can take root in our lives. He explained that love is like an ocean. The water is in constant motion and while there are big waves that crash down, most times the waves are small. Our love should be the same. We need to put it into action, even if it starts gradually. Selfless love requires us to swim out of our comfort zones, and it is expressed by the way we treat others.
“Small expressions of love start small and continue to grow day by day.” -K. Mannan
If you adhere to Islam, Christianity, or another faith, I would love to hear what love means to you. Even if you don’t subscribe to any faith, I would still love to hear your thoughts on love.
“When we start loving people we become a fragrance—a sweet odor that people around us should smell and by which we will always be remembered.” -K. Mannan