Universal School and Jami Masjid have a simple but grand goal – to make their neighborhood a better, safer, and more caring environment. When they moved into the East Side of Buffalo, reviving the abandoned Queen of Peace to its former glory as a house of worship, the area was riddled with crime. Drugs were dealt out of the back parking lot, fights broke out every other day on the block and it seemed as if the city had given up on the neighborhood.
Today, however, members of Universal School and Jami’ Masjid are greeted with smiles by their neighbors, who are often spotted walking past the Masjid shouting “I love you guys!” We have been following Jami’ Masjid closely throughout this transformation and witnessed firsthand how it all took place, and believe it or not it begins with a simple Islamic principle.
All Abrahamic religions are rooted in the same beliefs, but one of the key differences between Islam and Christianity is that Muslims do not believe in “original sin.” Instead, they believe that all humans are born in a state of purity known as fitrah, free from sin and corruption. It is only by living in this world and witnessing its hardships and temptations that mankind is driven towards error, but the successful human is the one who strives to maintain their natural state of goodness.
This assertion that all humans are, by nature, good people serves as a motivator to build bridges between people in difficult areas. Rather than cracking down harshly on the crime in the neighborhood, the people of Jami’ Masjid were determined to open their doors and extend bonds of friendship with their neighbors.
They started with barbecues, free for everyone and open to all. They would serve upwards of 300 of their neighbors, opening the doors to their mosque every year and offering free health clinics, free haircuts, bounce houses for the children and basketball tournaments. It seems simple, but sharing a meal with somebody is one of the most basic and fundamental ways to build trust. In ancient Bedouin societies, if someone fed you in their tent it generally meant that they would protect you and ensure your safe passage. The same principle carries over to today.
These barbecues fostered a stronger sense of community throughout the area and also led to discoveries that would fuel the mission of Jami’ Masjid. The difficulties in their area are primarily due to the lack of opportunities and resources available to its residents. In order to help remedy the challenges they face, Jami’ Masjid collected household items and clothing that would be useful to their neighbors, then partnered with the Buffalo Police Department to host a massive free giveaway right in their backyard.
Attendees had the opportunity to take home appliances, furniture, toys, and much more completely free of charge and the video has been viewed by millions, inspiring people across the globe to follow in their footsteps.
By hosting sincere events to improve their community and documenting them consistently, Jami’ Masjid built credibility among their neighbors and across the world which laid the groundwork for their latest successful initiative. Over the years they observed that the children in their neighborhood did not have a real safe place to play, and would treat Jami’ Masjid as a sanctuary. They realized their children deserve better than a parking lot and a neglected park to play in, so they took it upon themselves to plan and develop a state-of-the-art playground unlike anything their neighborhood has seen before, and reached out to the world for funding.
In the matter of a few short weeks, they were able to raise their goal of $65,000 from 372 donors across the world through their online crowdfunding campaign. The video, which we produced, certainly helped garner support for their cause but if it wasn’t for their consistent devotion to improving their community the massive support for this initiative would not have existed. Neighbors Sherman and Janine, who offered powerful statements in support of building the playground, came forward because they observed the sincere efforts of Jami’ Masjid to do good over time. The project also received much support from the Launchgood team who had taken notice of Jami’s efforts after their giveaway video went viral.
While the playground campaign is certainly a testament to the power of film, it is my belief that having a strong film is not enough. Jami’ Masjid demonstrated that sincere efforts combined with consistent documentation through film are a recipe for success. Your videos are only as strong as your passion and commitment towards the cause you care about. True Intent has been honored throughout the years to work with such a devoted group of individuals who sincerely wish to make their world a better place.
Akram Shibly – Founder, True Intent Productions