Austin's Muslim community has launched a new season of giving in Central Texas.
This weekend, Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the festival that follows the holy month of fasting and prayer known as Ramadan.
For Muslims, Eid is a time of community involvement and charity. This year, the Austin chapter of the Muslim American Society seized the opportunity to make the city a better place by donating gifts to 150 needy children in area shelters.
"From the end of Ramadan until the end of the year, this is the season of outreach," said Samer El-Haj-Mahmoud, the chapter's outreach coordinator. "We want the Muslim community to get charged up and go out to do service projects."
Volunteers at the North Austin Muslim Community Center spent Sunday morning wrapping packages full of books, art supplies, toys and games for kids of all ages. In the next few weeks, students from Islamic schools in Austin will distribute the packages, which include greeting cards, to kids at the Austin Children's Shelter and SafePlace, among others.
"I was really surprised to learn that there are kids my age in hospitals and orphanages," said Nisreen Malley, a seventh-grader at the Renaissance School who will be handing out gifts. "I want to make them happy. If they're happy, then I am happy."
This is the first year Austin's Muslims have tried Eid gift-giving drives on a local level, but in cities like Houston, it has been successful for years, El-Haj-Mahmoud said. The movement for the faithful to go out and do good in their cities is growing all over the U.S.
"The idea of giving gifts on Eid is not new," El-Haj-Mahmoud said. "It's a longstanding tradition in many Muslim cultures, not just here in the United States. ... The new idea is stretching that and going out to the children of the hospitals and orphanages and giving them gifts."
Muslims, he said, feel an obligation to show charity not only toward their fellow believers but to non-Muslims as well. They also want to demonstrate the kindness and compassion of their faith, he said. (MORE)