Muslim youth groups across US clean up national parks amid government shutdown

'It's just what we do,' says a volunteer

Sarah Harvard
New York
Monday 07 January 2019 14:57 EST
Muslim youth group clean up national parks during government shutdown

Young Muslim men across the United States spent their weekends cleaning up litter and trash from national parks impacted by the partial government shutdown that has gone on for 17 days and counting.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association—a nationwide youth organisation of young Muslims—grabbed their brooms and trash bags and cleared trash from parks operating with very limited staff.

The group were seen cleaning up Independence Hall in Pennsylvania, Everglades National Park in Florida, Joshua Tree in California, and Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio.

On Sunday, the National Park Service said it would be using funds “derived from entrance, camping, parking and other fees collected from park visitors” to “provide immediate assistance and services to highly visited parks.”

Typically, those funds are used to pay for future park projects.

“We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services,” the park service said in a statement.

But the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association is giving a helping hand.

“It’s just what we do,” Sarmad Bhatti, 23, told The Washington Post while taking out the trash from bins alongside Independence Avenue in the nation’s capital. “If there’s an opportunity to serve, that is what Muslims do.”

A volunteer in Philadelphia told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the cleanups were an opportunity to challenge growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and around the world.

“There’s a lot of false things that are against Islam and how they teach hatred and to hate your neighbour, but we’re actually told to love our neighbour and to help the neighbourhood around us,” Zubair Abaidullah, 17, told the Inquirer while cleaning up wet cigarette buts and litter.

Madeel Abdullah, the association’s president, released a statement saying that the most important parts of Islam include “service to our nation and cleanliness.”

“We could not sit idly by as our national parks collected trash,” the statement said. “We will lead by example and dispose of this garbage appropriately and invite all Americans to join us in these parks and others across the nation.”

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The association consists of Muslims following the Ahmadiyya sect—a religious movement founded in India in 1889 that believes its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, and not Prophet Muhammad, is Islam’s final messenger. Some mainstream Muslim groups often accuse Ahmadis for perverting Islam since it is widely believed that Jesus is the messiah and Prophet Muhammad is the last messenger of God. In result, a lot of Ahmadi Muslims are often persecuted in countries, like Pakistan, by the government and vigilantes.

Despite this theological schism, Ahmadis—like the other Islamic Sunni, Shia, and Sufi sects—also believe in the five pillars of Islam and all of the other major principles of the faith.

There are about 20,000 Ahmadi Muslims, including Academy Award winning actor Mahershala Ali, living in the US.

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