With rakes, brooms, and trash pickers in hand, more than a dozen young Muslim men took to Independence Mall on Saturday in the rain to clean up litter. It was their way of lessening the impact of the partial government shutdown, they said.
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the Mall’s most famous occupants, have been closed to the public for the majority of the time since the shutdown began Dec. 22. That hasn’t stopped passersby -- including tourists catching a glimpse of the Liberty Bell from outside its windowed housing -- from leaving their cigarette butts, gum wrappers, and other items of trash behind, or the wind, for that matter, from blowing some of the city’s discards there.
“We just came out here because we thought it’s our responsibility as a Muslim community to help the neighborhood and help the community,” Zubair Abaidullah, 17, said as he scooped up wet cigarette butts, plastic bags, and other litter.
The young men also hoped their work would help dispel misconceptions about Muslims.
“There’s a lot of false things that are against Islam and how they teach hatred and to hate your neighbor, but we’re actually told to love our neighbor and to help the neighborhood around us,” said Abaidullah, a junior at Father Judge High School in Philadelphia.
He and the other young men who volunteered in Saturday’s cleanup are members of Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association, a national organization for Muslim youths with more than 50 chapters around the country. Other chapters were also planning cleanups Saturday and Sunday at various national parks.
The federal shutdown began at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 22 after budget negotiations, particularly President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico, failed.
Departments affected by the shutdown include the National Park Service, Homeland Security, Transportation, and Agriculture. About 800,000 federal employees are affected by the shutdown, of which more than half are deemed essential and are working unpaid (though they will get back pay after the shutdown ends). An additional 380,000 employees, including more than 50,000 workers with the Internal Revenue Service, are furloughed and staying home without pay.
Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center closed on Dec. 22 but got a temporary reprieve. Visit Philadelphia donated about $32,000 to the National Park Service to cover the cost of keeping the two attractions open over the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s. Both sites once again became off-limits on Monday, Dec. 31, and have remained so since. Also on Independence Mall, the National Constitution Center, a nonprofit that does not rely on federal funding, remains open.
Fraz Tanvir, the local Muslim group’s leader, said volunteering and helping in the community are part of their faith. Saturday’s actions were an extension of other community work they have previously done, he said.
“Not only do we plant trees, but with His Holiness’ guidance we maintain the trees, clean up our highways and parks, and all of this has led to clean up our national parks,” Tanvir said.
Tanvir said they weren’t the only ones with the idea to clean up Independence Mall. When the group arrived and checked in with a park ranger, the officer thought they were with another volunteer group that was also planning to clean.
“It’s unfortunate whatever is happening with the government, but we’re just trying to do whatever we can,” he said.