A Pakistani resident opened a restaurant on one of DC’s most famous streets in 2013. Far from being a profit-making endeavour, it is a sanctuary for the homeless and the downtrodden.
Sakina Halal Grill is no ordinary place. It's a diner where regular customers sit side-by-side with the homeless, a place where there is no difference between the visitors who pay for their food and those who can’t afford it. This open-door policy aims to champion the Islamic principles of solidarity and sponsorship.
The restaurant owner, Kazi Manan, who himself comes from a poor family, left Pakistan in 1996 in search of a more prosperous life in the US.
His is a story made for Hollywood. He went from being an immigrant with only $5 to his name to being the owner of a restaurant a few feet from the Oval Office.
“I endured a lot of hardship back home and here when I first started out, which made me promise myself to open my doors to the needy should I succeed in opening my own business,” Manan told TRT Arabic.
Manan persisted despite friends ridiculing his dream of feeding Washington’s poor. In fact, he roamed the streets to let the homeless know about his new place.
“I remember that day, about 60 homeless people walked back to the restaurant with me in disbelief,” he says.
“They said: ‘free food in DC? This must be a joke’.”
The restaurant remains open even during Ramadan and has homeless visitors around the clock.
Ingrid, 32, says she travels long distances to be able to eat there. “They care for us here and treat us equally and with respect.”
Ronald, an immigrant from sub-Saharan Africa, says staff at the restaurant have become like family.
Manan says he aspires to feed 16,000 people a day and refuses financial support for his philanthropic initiative. The restaurant has gained a loyal customer base and hopes to open branches across the country so that more people in need can find a shelter where they feel welcome.
Washington DC is home to just under 7,000 homeless persons, according to The National Alliance to End Homelessness website. That figure reaches 500,000 on a national level.
Manan says the presence of immigrants is tantamount for America to remain great. Manan, a US citizen, abhors the Trump policy on immigration.
“Immigrants are brave to have left their home,” he says. “The Trump administration should know that their success is the country’s success.”
“We are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who work around the clock to contribute to the national economy.”
In addition to the homeless, the doors of Sakina Grill are open to federal employees who have been affected by the government’s latest austerity measures.
“It was totally normal for us to extend this support to government employees who haven’t been paid since our mantra is to support those in need,” he says.
Manan expresses disdain for Muslims who have contributed to the stereotypes that afflict the community.
“Why must we wait for Ramadan to feel with the poor and hungry,” he says. “We must feel for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Many people perceive Islam and Muslims to be a threat to their existence. Why don’t we help eradicate these stereotypes through love and brotherhood?”