Back-to-school cookout fosters cultural dialogue
August 28, 2011|By Mary Carmichael, Globe Staff
All yesterday afternoon, people kept offering to get Malika Rushdan some lunch. After all, she was at a cookout.
“Sorry,’’ she told them again and again. “I’m fasting.’’

Then she had an idea. She would be able to eat after dark. “Could you make me a plate to go?’’
Fasting from dawn to sunset during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that ends this week, is a well-known practice. Charity, too, is an important part of the holiday.
Charity is also a key value for activist Isaura Mendes, a Cape Verdean Catholic who has organized a benefit cookout on Groom Street in Dorchester every year since 2005 to honor her two sons, who were slain on the streets.
Last year, at a festival, Mendes and Rushdan got to talking. “I work with young people. I know the struggles they face,’’ said Rushdan. “Isaura touched my heart.’’
The result: The annual Bobby Mendes Peace Legacy barbecue is now a cross-cultural event. Kids who showed up yesterday hoping for free food and a ride in an inflatable Moon Bounce also got backpacks filled with school supplies, courtesy of ICNA Relief, the charity arm of the Islamic Circle of North America.

“Half the people here have probably never even talked to a Muslim,’’ said Rushdan. “But we’re hoping to create understanding.’’
“Half the people here have probably never even talked to a Muslim,’’ said Rushdan. “But we’re hoping to create understanding.’’

“Half the people here have probably never even talked to a Muslim,’’ said Rushdan. “But we’re hoping to create understanding.’’
ICNA Relief gave away about 4,000 backpacks in the New York City area last Ramadan, but this is the first year it has gone national, with hopes of distributing 15,000 bags in all. In addition to yesterday’s campaign in Dorchester, it is holding similar events in some 30 other communities, mostly on the East Coast, and in California and the South.
All of those giveaways are taking place at Islamic schools. Boston’s is the only one that is reaching out to a local neighborhood, said Rushdan. It is surely the only one with Cape Verdean sizzle.
Rushdan gave away all 100 backpacks she had yesterday. Pre-Irene drizzle dampened the festivities but not anyone’s spirits, and by 2:30 several dozen people were milling around the Groom Street cul-de-sac.
With the help of six volunteers, Rushdan set up a table where pamphlets on Islam were mingled with brochures telling the story of the Mendes family. Mendes stood next to her, jokingly admonishing the kids that if they took the backpacks, they had better get As on their report cards.
Clyneya Christmas, 12, had earned her bag – she is a straight-A student. Her friend Emily DaSilva had earned hers by spreading the word about the event. “Isaura gave me pamphlets so I could tell people about it,’’ she said.
Imam Abdullah Faaruuq, from a mosque on Shawmut Avenue, was happy with the turnout, too. “People see a little simple event like this and they figure it just flowered,’’ he said. “But things like this don’t happen on their own.’’
Charity is one of the main pillars of Islam. The 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, including 2.6 million in the United States, are required to give throughout the year, as well as at Ramadan. In the final days of the month, they donate a small sum – calculated according to income, as Christian tithes are – to those in need, so that anyone who wants to eat a holiday meal is able to.
On the last day of the celebration, Muslims will decorate their homes with lights and dress up for feasts with family and friends.
Then they will go back to work. ICNA Relief is in the middle of refurbishing a shelter for women and children on Intervale Street, and there are always more kids who need school supplies.
“For our first year, this was a huge success,’’ Rushdan said, eyeing the line of people in front of her table. “But what I’m really excited about is next year.’’
Mary Carmichael can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mary_carmichael.
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