ATLANTIC CITY — Muslim charities on Saturday distributed groceries, winter gloves and linens to hundreds of needy residents in Atlantic City.
The items were bought or donated by Muslims from across New Jersey, said Atif Nazir, a board member with the Islamic Circle of North America.
Atlantic City Imam Amin Muhammad said the charitable outreach helps dispel biases against Islam that are especially pronounced lately during a presidential campaign where candidates such as Donald Trump are calling for a Muslim registry and the expulsion of Muslim refugees.
Muhammad said he lived in Syria and knows that refugees fleeing conflict there have the same life goals, interests and frustrations as anyone in America, he said.
“They want prosperity and to live free from oppression,” he said.
Some people simply don’t know any Muslims so they have no frame of reference, he said.
“They say for the one who has never traveled, his mother is the best cook,” he said. “The daily purpose of our religion is to take care of your neighbor. It’s a matter of doing the work that God and the Prophet Mohammed ask you to do.”
Atlantic City is more of a melting pot than other parts of America. Volunteer Dashima Scott, 41, of Atlantic City, said she has not experienced any discrimination in South Jersey based on her Islamic faith.
“I’ve been blessed to not experience anything negative,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful thing today to hear people’s stories of need. I’m glad to be able to help.”
Nazir said most people in Atlantic City know Muslims as neighbors or co-workers or friends.
“The terrorists are not Muslim. We are a law-abiding community. We help the community. We do it all the time,” Nazir said.
Some people lined up outside the Atlantic City Police Athletic League building five hours before the distribution began. Soon a line trailed down three floors of ramps as hundreds of people waited patiently for a chance to get diapers, boxes of cereal, blankets and cooking oil.
Council President Frank M. Gilliam said the charitable need in Atlantic City has only increased with the closing of four resort casino hotels.
“The first person was here at 7 a.m. That shows people are in dire need,” he said. “When one person hurts, everyone hurts.”
Martita Rosario, 51, of Atlantic City, heard about the charity’s community food bank on Facebook.
“Everybody is in need of baby accessories,” she said. “I’m just trying to pay the rent.”
Rosario said she thinks all Muslims are getting unfairly blamed for terrorism committed in the name of Islam.
“Terrorists are all over. They can be Hispanic, too. Look at the Mexican cartels,” she said.