As the partial government shutdown extends into its third week, and as photos of national parks teeming with overflowing garbage bins continue to circulate on social media as a result, one group of young people jumped to action. A Muslim youth group picking up national parks says, according to multiple reports, that they're leading by example, and that they hope their actions send a positive message about Islam.
"Service to our nation and cleanliness are important parts of Islam," Dr. Madeel Abdullah, president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, said in a press release, according to CNN. "We could not sit idly by as our national parks collected trash. We will lead by example and dispose of this garbage appropriately and invite all Americans to join us in these parks and others across the nation."
Chapters of the youth group gathered to pick up garbage on the National Mall, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Everglades, among other places, CNN reports. But while the volunteering required lots of hard work, many participants told news outlets that they were simply acting out their faith.
"It's unfortunate whatever is happening with the government is going on," Fraz Tangir, a member of a local Philadelphia chapter, told KYW News Radio. "This is part of our faith, as well as to take care of our nation and respect our nation's laws, and basically take care of our own land."
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney praised the youth group for its work cleaning up parks in Philadelphia. "Shout out to Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Assoc for a great job cleaning up Independence Mall during Trump gov't shutdown," he tweeted. "Trump can shut down the gov't, but not Americans' sense of civic duty."
The group responded to the mayor's tweet, affirming their commitment to giving back to their communities. "Thanks, Mr. Mayor!" they wrote. "Remember at the Philadelphia mosque inauguration when His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the @KhalifaofIslam, said that we will wipe away the tears of our neighbors during times of distress? Those weren't simply words. We're here for everyone."
Indeed, the group appears to be no stranger to community service. They've raised over $200,000 toward charity and logged just under 2000,000 of community service as a whole, according to their website. "I hope it shows that we're not here just to talk about Islam the whole time," Salaam Bhatti, a spokesperson for the youth group, told CNN. "We're here to be part of America."
Around since 1983, according to it website, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association boasts 3,000 members — all male — between the ages of 7 and 40. Their volunteer work, they say, is not limited to Muslim communities. Instead, it "serves the needs of all members of society irrespective of color, race, religion or creed and promotes interfaith dialogue and co-operation in order to promote peace and harmony."
It's not clear how long the partial government shutdown will last. As of Sunday, there's no pathway to compromise in sight. But in the meantime, groups like the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association are demonstrating what can happen when committed citizenry hit the streets to give back to the cities they live in.