Packed into a small auditorium at Drexel University, college students from across Philadelphia shared their Muslim-American experiences through poetry.
One student spoke of the Islamophobia he experienced in New York City after soldiers killed Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011. A white boy at his school asked him why he wasn’t at home crying “because the leader of your religion is dead.”
Muslim student associations from Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and the University of the Sciences organized Food for Thought, a poetry slam competition and art auction to raise money to help people impacted by war in Yemen. The fundraiser on Friday, which about 125 people attended, raised more than $3,000 for Islamic Relief USA, an organization that provides relief to people in poverty around the world.
In Yemen, more than 20 million people experience food insecurity, with “half of them suffering extreme levels of hunger,” according to a United Nations report released this month.
Poet-performer and author Kashmir Maryam reached out to the Muslim student associations last December with the fundraiser idea. Born in England, Maryam moved to the United States in 2011.
Maryam connected with the student organizations through her poetry performances at universities in the city, including Temple. A video she saw on social media about the crisis inspired her to raise money for Yemen, she said.
“The images were extremely disturbing and that was the first time that I heard about the starvation crisis they are going through,” she said. “My question was, ‘What can I do to help?’”
Razin Karu, the president of Temple’s Muslim Students Association, was drawn to fundraiser idea because most people in the United States don’t know about the severity of the crisis, in which intense fighting started in 2015, he said.
“You don’t hear about Yemen on CNN or any other news channel,” said Karu, a senior history and political science major. “It’s as if it’s not even happening, and so it’s so important now that people have a conversation about it.”
The Yemen crisis stems from a civil war between the Houthi rebels loyal to late Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition supported by current Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, according to Amnesty International, a London-based non-governmental organization. The conflict has caused 17,700 civilian deaths and injuries, according to the United Nations.
Fahima Shobarna, a freshman public health major, attended the event to support the Muslim community.
“No one should have to really worry about having food throughout the day or even just one simple meal or even water,” Shobarna said.
At the event, Suleman Sheikh, an Islamic Relief USA representative, said the money raised would support the organization’s efforts to feed the people of Yemen through agricultural projects and provide orphans with food, education and basic care.
Yemen used to rely on bordering countries for aid, but when the war began, their allies, like England, were blockaded from Yemen by the Houthi rebels, he added.
“[Islamic Relief USA] is one of the few organizations around the world that has access in the country to Yemen,” Sheikh said. “This is what you call an emergency within an emergency.”
Maryan said people in the United States often feel insignificant because they live in country far removed from the Yemen crisis.
“We sometimes don’t understand the full capacity of how people are suffering in countries such as Yemen,” Maryan said. “But I thought maybe there’s something that we can do.”