It was just supposed to be a one-time thing.
Munazza Muhammad passed out grab-and-go stuffed fish, barbecue chicken, macaroni and cheese and more to people who lined up in the yard next to her house at 22nd and Venango streets in North Philadelphia.
She wanted to gather her community together in some way for iftar, a dinner eaten after sundown by Muslims to break their daily fast during Ramadan.
Muhammad also knows the novel coronavirus has left many families struggling to provide good dinners. Others are working around-the-clock and don’t have time to cook.
She ended up serving nearly 250 people, including 40 families, and contributions started flooding in. Now, she plans to hold “Grab N’ Go Iftars” every Friday at 5 p.m.
“When people hear that you’re doing something good, they always want to help,” Muhammad said. “People have been giving a lot of donations.”
Iftar is typically a cherished meal enjoyed by family members and friends and sometimes accompanied by a trip to the mosque.
Ramadan, like Easter and Passover before it, has been upended by COVID-19. It began on April 23, around the virus’ peak in Philadelphia, and ends on May 23, when it’s unlikely many restrictions will have been lifted.
For Muhammad, this year’s holy month has been a time for spiritual reflection and learning more about Islam. She said the shutdown has forced her to slow down.
“We’re always preparing ourselves to go out and do something whether it’s going to a gathering of iftar, go to the masjid, so we’re always out doing something,” she said.
“Even though it’s a pandemic and the circumstances are unfortunate, it’s really allowed me to just take a deeper look at myself and do more and really reflect on the true meaning of Ramadan,” Muhammad added.
Muhammad funded the first grab-and-go iftar herself, though she received help from her family and friends in preparing and handing out prepackaged meals and family trays.
Muslims make an effort to reach out to those in need during Ramadan. Muhammad said it’s nothing new for her.
“I’m just a person that is a community servant anyway,” she said. “I grew up just serving my community from feeding the homeless to just donating my time to different organizations.”
She’s also an entrepreneur. Muhammad’s company, the Traveling Muslimahs, organizes trips for Muslim women. The group has more than 200 members who pay a monthly fee and can pick from a menu of pre-planned trips.
Muhammad noticed that a lot of Muslim women in her community wanted to travel but couldn’t find anyone to go with them.
“As Muslim women, it’s not recommended for us to travel alone,” she said. “A lot of times, I come across a lot of people who haven’t traveled because they don’t have people to travel with.”
Many of the members are from Philadelphia, but women from New York, Atlanta, Virginia, Chicago, Canada and the United Arab Emirates have signed up, Muhammad said. They have organized trips to Iceland, Greece, Morocco and other destinations.
It’s more comfortable traveling with people who, in keeping with Islamic guidelines, don’t go out partying and drinking, Muhammad said.
“I wanted it to be a group where we’re all doing the same type of thing. So when it’s time to pray, we’re all praying,” she added. “We’re all making sure we’re eating halal meals.”
Muhammad nearly got stuck in Dubai on a trip around the time the virus arrived in the United States. She was there to meet about 50 people from Philadelphia, including some family members, for a cruise.
The cruise ended up getting canceled, and they arrived back in the city March 19, not long after non-essential businesses were forced to close.
So far, the Traveling Muslimahs has canceled a trip to Greece, and Muhammad said she will decide next month on trips scheduled for July.
In the meantime, she’ll be serving hot meals from her house at 2204 W. Venango Street on Fridays from 5 p.m. until the food runs out.
People are asked to register at www.phillytravelingmuslimahs.com so Muhammad has an idea on how much food to get, but it’s not required.