Services are on hold at this Detroit mosque during...

Services are on hold at this Detroit mosque during coronavirus crisis, but their soup kitchen still feeds families of all faiths

Though Ramadan traditions have been challenged by stay-at-home precautions, the Muslim Center is making iftar meals to-go -- and serving more people than ever.

Volunteer chefs prepare hot meals at the soup kitchen in Muslim Center in Detroit.

On a Saturday afternoon last month, Davine El-Amin carried a box of short ribs, vegetables and cleaning supplies through a side door at the mostly-empty Muslim Center in Detroit — the mosque has been closed since Michigan’s stay-at-home order went into effect in March. However, El-Amin, the mosque’s board secretary, keeps showing up, along with co-coordinator board member Omar Peterson and other volunteers. They’re keeping the center’s kitchen open to provide meals for those in need, a regular offering that feels especially vital during Ramadan.

“Taking away services would have been a disservice to the community,” El-Amin said. 

A Ford electrician by day, El-Amin is also a mom of four and grandmother to seven. In her spare time, she co-chairs the Muslim Center’s food pantry and soup kitchen, one of few run by a mosque in metro Detroit. It has been open for 25 years. Every day of the week, volunteers pack grab-and-go lunches or hot dinners; on Saturdays, the soup kitchen and pantry are open for drop-in visitors. Some Muslims rely on this service for the meal, called iftar, to break their daily fast during Ramadan.

During the month-long holiday, which ends on May 23, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk with no food or water. The Muslim Center usually provides a community iftar daily and hosts interfaith iftars throughout the month, traditions they had to forego to comply with social distancing practices. 

The predominately African American mosque sits near the intersection of the Davison and Lodge Freeways on Detroit’s west side. Active since 1985, it is nearby — and often works in tandem with — organizations such as the HUDA Clinic, a free dental and healthcare clinic for low- and no-income families, and Dream of Detroit, a housing nonprofit that’s revitalizing several blocks in the neighborhood

El-Amin said the mosque draws people from those nearby organizations, as well as others who trickle in for Friday prayers from nearby school or work. 

“Muslim Center is like the mecca for everybody,” she added. 

Davine El-Amin runs the soup kitchen at Muslim Center in Detroit
Davine El-Amin

El-Amin noted that while they had previously mostly served non-Muslim residents of the neighborhood, it’s now more equally divided. 

As Detroiters face job losses, income cuts and increased need during the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of people coming to the mosque for meals has doubled. Volunteers now prepare around 200 meals daily.

As demand increased, El-Amin called on three chefs she knew in the community to help prepare food.

“They all jumped on board,” she said, to cook up BBQ chicken, yellow rice, salad, glazed carrots and sweet peas on their first night of making iftar meals to-go.

Other volunteers drop off a couple hundred meals each week to households without transportation, to families from the east side to Westland. 

“Without our volunteers who show up to assist with various tasks, from helping to direct traffic, to bagging and distributing the meals to cleaning, we would not be able to serve the people,” she said.

Despite the increasing work in the mosque kitchen and universal hardships, El-Amin has appreciated some of the changes to her daily life. â€œHave we ever seen life as we know it come to a complete halt? Or, a person who has to work every single day, 10-20 hours a day to make ends meet, actually having time to spend time with their family?”

Still, the mosque, like other service providers, has been financially cut to the bone. 

“Muslim Center is a struggling masjid. It’s a nonprofit. We only function by way of people’s donations,” El-Amin said. “How do you get people to donate when they are going through a catastrophe themselves?” 

Donations are still trickling in, and they get support from other partners. The mosque partners with Forgotten Harvest for pantry items — they rent a U-Haul each week to pick up food from the regional food bank. The Islamic Center of Detroit sponsors the daily lunches and the Michigan Muslim Community Council donates 40 boxes of food weekly.

“We’re not a well-oiled machine but we make it happen with what Allah provides, and we keep moving,” El-Amin said. 

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How to help and get help:

The Muslim Center, 1605 West Davison, Detroit, MI 48238, offers grab-and-go lunches for school-aged kids and their families Monday-Friday 5-7 p.m, with a soup kitchen and pantry Saturdays 12-1 p.m., and pick-up dinners on the weekends from 6-8 p.m. Find more info here. You can request meal delivery using this form.

To mark the end of Ramadan, on May 24 at 3 p.m. Muslims celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, the feast after the month long fast. In lieu of Eid prayers, Muslim Center is hosting the “Woodward Eid Cruise,” starting at the Muslim Center, then turn onto Woodward from Davison, and go down to Campus Martius. The mosque will distribute toys to children.

You can donate to support the mosque’s efforts to feed the community — learn more here.

Photos courtesy of Davine El-Amin.

Nargis Rahman is a Bangladeshi-American Muslim writer and a mother of three. She is passionate about community journalism in the greater Detroit area and about giving American Muslims and people of color a voice in today’s media. A former journalism fellow for Feet in 2 Worlds/WDET 101.9 FM, her work has appeared in Haute Hijab, Eater, Detroiter Magazine, The Muslim Observer and others.