If your neighbor goes to bed hungry, you should not sleep.

That’s what the Prophet Mohammed tells followers of Islam. And that’s why hundreds of Muslims gathered in Riverfront Park on Sunday afternoon to grill hamburgers, dish out plates of vegetable biryani and give clothes and health screenings to the area’s needy for the 10th annual Islamic Charity Festival.

“Islam tells us – actually commands us – to help the poor. This is our way of giving back to the community, in a dignified way,” said Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations. “This is our way of sharing and connecting.”

The Tampa Bay Muslim Alliance, a coalition of more than 20 Muslim groups, organized the festival, which focused on helping the community without preaching or proselytizing.

Anyone, regardless of faith, could stroll into Riverfront Park, feast on spicy stewed chicken or old-fashioned American hamburgers and pick up a bag or two of clothes or even a bicycle. Festive music played in the background, a clown offered face painting for children.

“I come back every year,” said Hershell Roberson, 52, who sat on a shady bench and tucked into a plate of Palestinian-style baked chicken and rice mixed with ground beef. A backpack under the bench held his belongings. He is homeless.


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