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Story Of Pakistani Immigrant Who Came To U.S. Helps Feed The Homeless

“I have a deep interest in social justice, Catholic social teaching … and so to be part of something bigger than myself, my son and I chose to come to lunch here today to support and be a small part of a great thing."

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Food
Sakina Halal Grill serves a hot luncheon buffet to paying as well as non-paying guests. (J.Taboh) VOA

When Pakistani immigrant Kazi Mannan came to the U.S. in 1996 as an impoverished young adult, he could only dream about success. He worked long hours in a series of tough jobs, saved money and learned everything he could about working and living in America.

His hard work paid off. After more than 20 years, he’s now a successful entrepreneur and owner of a popular Pakistani-Indian restaurant just a few blocks from the White House.

But what’s most remarkable about his story is what he’s doing in his restaurant every day.

Kazi Mannan speaks with two of his regular homeless guests at his restaurant, which welcomes paying and non-paying customers. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Kazi Mannan speaks with two of his regular homeless guests at his restaurant, which welcomes paying and non-paying customers. (J. Taboh) . VOA

Mannan offers free meals to the homeless and anyone else in need.

Paying it forward

He says it’s his way of heeding the principles of his Muslim faith.

“I know God is happy with me, what I do, because I do it with my pure heart, with my pure intention, to uplift others without seeking any reward, any recognition,” he says. “I don’t need any awards, I don’t need any money. I just want to please Him.”

Mannan helps the needy he says, because growing up poor in Pakistan, he knows what it’s like to be hungry.

“I have nine siblings and [we didn’t have] much to eat … when you are poor and you [don’t] have things that other people have, when you get it, you want to appreciate, you want to share with others,” he said.

His desire to share deepened as he worked as a limousine driver in the nation’s capital. He saw homeless people on the street, day and night, in all kinds of weather — looking for food in trash cans.

The experience had an impact.

“I don’t want to see another human being going through the poverty that I went through. I don’t want to see another human being going through the hunger that I went through. I want them to have that feeling that they were being accepted, so they can come and sit here and eat with respect,” he says.

Just like family

His message is simple. Come to Sakina Halal Grill, which is named after his late mother, ask for food, use the restroom, and sit for as long as you want.

“We will love you and respect you the same way we respect a paying guest. We will treat you like family,” he said.

Members of the homeless community are welcome at Sakina Halal Grill restaurant anytime for a free meal. (J. Taboh/VOA)
Members of the homeless community are welcome at Sakina Halal Grill restaurant anytime for a free meal. (J. Taboh). VOA

Marchellor Lesueur, who is homeless, has been coming to the restaurant every day for the past eight months.

“I think that he’s a saint. He’s a beautiful man,” he says about Mannan. “My stomach was growling, I was looking for a blessing, then he popped up, gave me a card and invited me to a restaurant for lunch. And I was so overwhelmed and happy I couldn’t wait to get here, and ever since then I’ve been coming.”

Hegehiah Griakley is also a regular. He was finishing up a generous portion of rice and chicken, which he described as two meals in one.

“This is more than lunch,” he said. “They give you enough to feed you for the rest of the day I think. The food is great, the people are nice. I wouldn’t mind working here!”

Griakley says he once asked Mannan what he could give him in return for the free food. “Because most people expect you to give back.”

“But he said ‘no, no, no, no, no!’ He just wanted me to have a good meal,” he recalls. “I couldn’t believe that. It was so nice. I loved it.”

Compassionate immigrant

Mannan estimates that he’s provided more than 80,000 free meals since the restaurant opened in 2013.

And when he’s not feeding the needy in his restaurant, Mannan delivers meals to local shelters and churches, and organizes food and clothing drives at nearby parks.

Kazi Mannan distributes food to the needy at a local food and coat drive -- one of many he organizes every year. (K.Mannan)
Kazi Mannan distributes food to the needy at a local food and coat drive — one of many he organizes every year. (K.Mannan). VOA

“Some people tell me ‘homeless people are using drugs and you’re feeding them; that’s bad.’” To which he responds, “For you, it’s bad, for me, it’s joy. … I see a person who’s fallen to the ground. Whatever problem they went through to become homeless, it’s not my job to judge — my job is to give them respect and love.”

His paying customers are still his main business. Many of them contribute towards the free meals… and support his cause.

First time customer Geralyn Nathe-Evans was visiting from Minnesota when she read about Mannan’s mission in an article.

“I have a deep interest in social justice, Catholic social teaching … and so to be part of something bigger than myself, my son and I chose to come to lunch here today to support and be a small part of a great thing,” she said.

Mannan uses food as a way to help his fellow man, in practice of his faith. He urges others to do the same with their talents.

“If you’re a medical doctor, can you love him through your practice? If you are a lawyer, can you love him through your practice? Be kind and be compassionate to your client?” he asks.

In doing so, he believes “we will all prosper and flourish” as a society.

Also Read: Apple Watch Can Detect And Notify Users Irregular Heart Rhythms

Meantime, he says he will continue to nourish both body and soul of all who walk through the door of his restaurant.

“Just uplifting others is a joy for me. It doesn’t matter [what] color, religion you belong to. We are all human. I am focusing on humanity. I’m bringing humanity together and this is my mission.” (VOA)

Next Story

Concentration Camps: Uyghurs Chafed Under Tough Chinese Controls During Ramadan

“Our concerns are significant when it comes to the ongoing repression in China,” said Randall Schriver, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.

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Police officers stand watch near a center believed to be used for 're-education' in Xinjiang's Korla city, Nov. 2, 2017. RFA

As Muslims worldwide began a month of abstaining from food or drink from dawn until sunset for Ramadan Monday, Uyghurs chafed under tough Chinese controls over observations of the annual Muslim holy month in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Activists and U.S. politicians meanwhile called for greater world attention to and condemnation of China’s network of political “re-education camps” that have held up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

Authorities in Xinjiang have typically forced restaurants to stay open and restricted access to mosques during Ramadan to discourage traditional observation of the holy month, and in recent years authorities’ have tried to ban fasting among Uyghurs, drawing widespread criticism from rights groups.

“The entire Muslim world has started fasting and praying. But unfortunately the Uyghur Muslims under China’s draconian rule can neither fast nor pray during this Ramadan,” said Ilshat Hassan, president of the Washington-based Uyghur American Association.

“It is not just Uyghurs’ Islamic faith that is under Chinese attack but also their very existence as a unique indigenous people,” he told RFA’s Uyghur Service.

“The international community needs to take action for China locking up millions of Uyghurs in concentration camps. And the Muslim world, especially OIC, should hold China accountable for its anti-Islamic policy and crimes against humanity,” added Hassan.

“While the Muslims around the world are enjoying their religious freedom and peacefully celebrating Ramadan, the Uyghur Muslims of East Turkestan have been denied by China their legitimate right to celebrate, pray and fast,” said Dolkun Isa, president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress.

“This is the third consecutive year that Uyghur people, who accepted Islam as a state religion more than a thousand year ago, have not been able to celebrate Ramadan because of Chinese government’s anti-Islamic and anti-Uyghur policies,” he said, and echoed Hassan’s calls for international pressure on China to ease its policies.

In response to reports on the fasting ban, the deputy chief of mission in the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, Zhao Lijian, tweeted that “Muslims are free to fast in Xinjiang.”

“Restrictions are with Communist Party members, who are atheists; government officials, who shall discharge their duties; students who are with compulsory education & hard learning tasks,” the diplomat wrote.

‘Concentration camps’ term angers China

Criticism of tightening controls on Ramadan activities came as China bristled at the use of the term “concentration camps” by a senior Pentagon official in a news conference on May 3 in Washington.

“Our concerns are significant when it comes to the ongoing repression in China,” said Randall Schriver, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.

“The Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” said.

China
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, in a speech last week, indicated there is little acceptance in Washington for China’s explanation for the camps. RFA

Challenged by a reporter on the use of a word that calls to mind Nazi Germany’s mass internment of Jews in the 1930s, Schriver defended the term as “appropriate.”

“Given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to 3 million citizens out of a population of about 10 million, so a very significant portion of the population, what’s happening there, what the goals are of the Chinese government and their own public comments make that a very, I think, appropriate description,” he said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday that Schriver’s comments were “totally inconsistent with the facts.”

“The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition,” he said. “We also once again urge the relevant parties in the U.S. to… stop interfering with China’s internal affairs through the Xinjiang issue.”

“At present, Xinjiang is politically stable, its economy is developing, and the society there is harmonious,” added Geng. “The people live and work in peace.”

Though Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, China has tried to change the discussion, describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization and help protect the country from terrorism.

China recently organized two visits to monitor re-education camps in the XUAR—one for a small group of foreign journalists, and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and Thailand—during which officials dismissed claims about mistreatment and poor conditions in the facilities as “slanderous lies.”

China has also fought to muffle criticism of its policies at international gathering, including a recent incident at the UN Human Rights Council, where Chinese diplomats tried to stop activist Hillel Neuer from raising the Xinjiang camps.

“When I spoke out @UN_HRC for 1 million Muslim Uighurs being detained by China, they freaked out and tried to stop me. They failed,” tweeted Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.

Adrian Zenz, a lecturer in social research methods at the Germany-based European School of Culture and Theology, earlier this month said that some 1.5 million people are or have been detained in the camps—equivalent to just under 1 in 6 members of the adult Muslim population of the XUAR—after initially putting the number at 1.1 million.

Michael Kozak, the head of the State Department’s human rights and democracy bureau, in an apparent reference to the policies of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, said in March that people “haven’t seen things like this since the 1930s” and called the internment of more than a million Uyghurs “one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today.”

China
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing in Beijing on Monday that Schriver’s comments were “totally inconsistent with the facts.” VOA

In November 2018, Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State, said there are “at least 800,000 and possibly up to a couple of million” Uyghurs and others detained at re-education camps in the XUAR without charges, citing U.S. intelligence assessments.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, in a speech last week, indicated there is little acceptance in Washington for China’s explanation for the camps.

Also Read: Sell Charcoal to Buy Food: North Korean Children on Street To Support Themselves

“China has concentrated over one million Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in what they call ‘vocational schools’ or ‘reeducation camps, but what we would recognize as prison camps,” said Rubio, co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“What Xi Jinping calls the ‘Chinese Dream,’ has for millions of people, become a brutal and unending nightmare,” he said, referring to China’s president and his signature slogan. (RFA)