Roughly 250 young men wearing identical black and white uniforms roamed the halls of the House office buildings Friday, encountering curious tourists and members of Congress along the way.
The young men were members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association and they were on Capitol Hill to meet with nearly 50 members of Congress to address their efforts to combat hunger in the U.S.
“We came to Capitol Hill not to ask but to give,” said AMYA President Bilal Rana at a news conference after the meetings. “We want to help feed the hungry in America and we asked Congress to help us identify organizations in the districts of those congressmen that we can work with, who can help us achieve our goal of feeding one million hungry Americans.”
California Democrats Rep. Michael M. Honda and Rep. Jackie Speier made quick appearances at the news conference, both popping in between votes to make their statements to the young men gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building.
Honda walked into the room wearing one of AMYA’s black and white scarves and told Rana, “You got taller,” as they greeted one another.
“I’m proud to be associated with you,” Honda said. “With your work, your presence, your faith and your persistence, we shall achieve that more perfect nation.”
Speier addressed the group as one of the co-chairmen of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Caucus, which was established in March.
“I’m particularly impressed by your commitment to wanting to expand beyond just internal concerns,” said Speier. “That you recognize that as part of this great country, we must do our part to solve our domestic problems.”
Speier also urged the group to take up the issue of Ahmadiyya Muslim persecution in Pakistan, an issue that she said will be a focus of the caucus.
“Part of our job in the caucus is to educate the rest of Congress so that we can convey to our leadership, both in the presidency, in the State Department and when we make trips to Pakistan, that in fact having this law on the books is really outrageous,” Speier told the young men.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a movement within Islam that includes tens of millions of Muslims. The community follows the leadership of the international khalifa, or spiritual head. Junayad Latif of Illinois, 39, one of the AMYA’s four vice presidents, explained that the khalifa’s role is similar to the Pope’s role in the Catholic Church.
Latif explained that in his religion, “We can’t worship God fully unless we serve mankind” and added that hunger is a central issue for his group because food is a basic need for all of humanity.
“We find support from both sides of the aisle,” Latif told CQ Roll Call, who also said that his experience on Capitol Hill was very positive.
Latif said they encountered curious Capitol visitors who were caught off guard by the group of men in matching uniforms and asked who they were. Latif said explaining his group, his faith, and their mission on Capitol Hill was an important opportunity to address inaccurate views of Islam.
“I think we’re changing images, changing perceptions in the community," said Latif.
AMYA is headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., but incorporates more than 3,000 young men between the ages of seven and 40 through 70 local chapters across the country.
The pilgrimage to Capitol Hill was part of the group’s initiative dubbed Muslim Youth Against Hunger. After the news conference, the young men walked to the National Mall as part of their annual Walk for Humanity to raise money and awareness to combat hunger in America.