This past winter break, in some of the coldest temperatures of the season, a group of young Muslim men and boys delivered gifts and food and cleaned up roads as part of their organization’s effort to dispel prejudice and serve the community. Their organization, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association is a nationwide youth group with a chapter in nearby Round Rock that serves all of Central Texas. Its 50 members are part of Austin’s Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, which has been based at a mosque in Round Rock since 2007.
“We’re a religious group with the purpose to foster religious identity based on Islam,” said Abdul Naseer, a research scientist at UT-Austin and the national director for humanitarian services for the organization. “This initiative is to use these holy days to serve the needy and our neighbors.”
Over the school break, members packed and served more than 100 meals at the downtown homeless shelter on Christmas Day, cleaned up their adopted road in North Austin, and handed out small gifts to neighbors around the mosque on New Year’s Eve.
“Unfortunately, the extremist within Islam try to convey the message that Islam is against peace and against being a part of our communities,” said Naseer, “so we stand for the principle that Islam is a religion of peace that teaches us to be active in serving our community.”
Yasir Quereshi, a 16 -year-old member, helped deliver the meals downtown and gifts to neighbors around the mosque. He says he was surprised by the number of people at the shelter on Christmas Day. “Being able to help them with even just one meal and knowing that it helped them get through another day felt good,” said Quereshi. “Some of them got emotional and started tearing up. We explained who we were and what we did, just to show them that the media’s biases aren’t always true, and that we can be good people, too.”
Along with the annual outreach to the community, the youth group also organizes an annual blood drive, an annual race that raises money for other charities, monthly service projects locally, and trains and deploys volunteers to assist in disaster relief. According to the group, in 2017 AMYA chapters across the country helped more than 10,000 people in need, fed 570,000 people with meals, collected 2,400 bags of blood, raised nearly $40,000 for charities and provided 3,000 volunteer hours to help those affected by hurricanes in Houston, Miami and Puerto Rico.
Quereshi, who had previously raised more than $2,000 for charity by participating in an Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association race, says most people he’s reached out to have been receptive and grateful. “I think that’s the most interesting part of being a member, physically going out and meeting people, trying to make the world a better place. I hope it gives them a more positive view about Muslims and shows them that we’re willing to help if needed.”