(REPORT) — Muslim-American immigrant Kazi Mannan uses his platform as a restaurant owner in downtown Washington, D.C. to spread a message of love. At the Sakina Halal Grill, the homeless eat for free. In an interview with Eater D.C., Mannan explains,
“I’m in the business of hospitality, and I get to show love with good food. For me, it’s how I live out my faith”.
Mannan came to the United Stated in 1996 at age 25, leaving behind his family to forge a new path, one that would reflect his dream of showing people “the true essence of Islam — and that is to love”. He began by working at a gas station in the Northeast’s throughway Benning Road until he was able to save enough money to begin a limousine service, which he still owns. Part of his motivation as a business owner is to employ other immigrants like himself, “I’m very proud that I can provide jobs to people like me, immigrants. Because seriously for me, this is not about the money. This life, my life, is about how I help others”.
Mannan says it was his mother, now passed, that taught him to be generous. Although they lived in poverty, he says she always “gave everything of herself”. He comes from a small village in Pakistan, where there was no plumbing or electricity, and he attended a school that was entirely outdoors.
“It was always my dream to overcome poverty and own a restaurant,” he says, “And, that’s what I did”.
The Sakina Halal Grill, formerly known as the Mayur Kebab House, was purchased by Mannan in 2013 and has been feeding the hungry ever since. Mannan estimates 6,000 meals were given away in the year 2016. He enjoys his relationship with the homeless patrons and considers them friends, “I want them to see me as their friend. And, I want others to see them as human beings”. Between 2009 and 2016, D.C. saw a 34.1% rise in homelessness, one of the highest increases in the nation, according to the “Hunger and Homelessness” survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
The cuisine is a multi-national, collaborative effort. Mannan’s brother Sohail [Rahman] is head chef, working alongside a chef from Nepal and a chef from India. He indicates the novelty of this cooperation, “The chefs work together … and not only do they make delicious food, but they represent places, which are typically at odds with each other”. They serve Pakistani and Indian staples, like chicken karahi, goat curry, and saag panee.
As an expression of faith, Mannan chose to stay open during the #ADayWithoutImmigrants strike. Just blocks from the White House, Mannan sees this as an opportunity to make an impression on politicians and corporations.
“As a Muslim-American and small business owner I live in fear of a Trump America. He is a real threat to our democracy. But, my heart is pure. I will continue to believe in the goodness of humanity and remain hopeful in the unity of people.”
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