The United States is now on day 21 of the government shutdown. It’s a difficult time: government employees aren’t getting paid and are calling off sick or quitting in record numbers, essential tasks aren’t getting done, and many public services are stalling.
But one Muslim youth group has made it their mission to do some good while the shutdown continues by performing trash and litter cleanup in the country’s national parks.
The national parks have been hit particularly hard by the shutdown.
There is currently no staff manning them, which means that there is no one around to keep them clean. And it’s not just national parks — the youth group is tackling the trash at government facilities throughout the country.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association is a nationwide Muslim youth group with chapters all over the United States. All told, they have roughly 5,000 members between the ages of 7 and 40 years old. Cleaning litter and public waste is a common part of their charity work. Now, local chapters are gathering to clean up public spaces everywhere from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to the Everglades National Park in Florida.
According to Salaam Bhatti, a spokesman for the association, the outreach is intended not only to do public services and make communities cleaner and safer but also to reach out to those of different faiths and encourage positive interfaith dialogue.
Bhatti also stressed that they’re not mainly there to talk about religious differences.
They’re there to show that Muslim-Americans are just as much a part of American culture as anyone else.
“I hope it shows that we’re not here just to talk about Islam the whole time,” Bhatti said. “We’re here to be part of America.”
The association has turned up around the country even in bad weather to tackle the mountains of gathered refuse that has been neglected since the government shutdown began.
The association’s president, Dr. Madeel Abdullah, explained that community service and keeping conditions clean are an important part of their faith.
“Service to our nation and cleanliness are important parts of Islam,” said Abdullah. “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.”
Community responses have been ones of gratefulness and even joining in to help.
The government shutdown has been in full effect since Dec. 22, 2018.
Since then, National Parks have been struggling to handle the amount of refuse from visitors who continue to pass through even though there are no public services. A number of solutions have been offered, but for now, the parks are just getting by on fee revenues. It’s not a long-term solution, but in the meantime, the youth group is bridging the gap in the best way they can.
But for the members of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, it’s simply a matter of living as the Quran teaches.
“We are humbly serving our nation at a time when many tears are being shed,” said Bhatti, referencing the tenets of Islam that teach that Muslims should “wipe away the tears of [their] neighbors during times of distress.”
If the shutdown lingers on, the youth group will find other ways to help both individuals and public community spaces.
The damage in the national parks is significant. People are reporting unsanitary and even dangerous conditions. Without regulation, trash cans are filled to the brim, refuse is lining the ground, and some visitors have even vandalized parts of the parks.
Though some small forces of emergency services are still walking the parks to provide a little regulation, for the most part, they are without any guidance. Meanwhile, the public can come and go as they please, which in this case, is not always a good thing. It means that people who come in can do what they want because there is no one to stop them.
Things get from “disgusting” to “dangerous” when it comes to leaking, overfilled toilets and wild animals that are enjoying the free food in the bulging trash cans. Additionally, many of the public trails are becoming overgrown, which can also pose hazards.
With any luck, the work of The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association will continue to attract attention and inspire more community members to join in the cleanup.
The government shutdown, dragging into its third week, has had widespread effects. Sources report breakdowns in government services all over, such as in the TSA. Without pay and unable to seek part-time work, many government workers are calling in sick or even thinking about quitting their jobs. Hopefully, it will end soon. In the meantime, communities are being looked out for by people like those in The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association.
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