Empty Bowls: Compassion with Creativity

Empty Bowls is a deceptively simple idea that has generated millions of dollars towards alleviating hunger in communities across the United States and abroad. A project of Imagine/Render, Empty Bowls is “an international grassroots effort to raise both money and awareness in the fight to end hunger.”

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There are millions of ‘empty bowls’ around the world because hunger is an endemic problem in every community. Artists, craftsmen, and community members create and donate bowls that are later distributed at an Empty Bowls Luncheon. Participants sit down to eat a simple meal of soup and bread and go home with a handcrafted bowl as a reminder of the presence of hunger in the community. Potters, craftsman and artists also craft special bowls that are auctioned at the event. The food is sponsored by local restaurants and/ or community members and a hundred percent of the proceeds from the tickets of the luncheon and auction are donated to a local food bank, soup kitchen or charitable organization. These events are sponsored by local churches, potters and artists’ organizations, and schools. Each community creates its own unique Empty Bowls event while remaining true to the original idea.

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I was extremely impressed not just by the simplicity of the idea but by the immense barakah that could come from making Empty Bowls a recurring event in Muslim communities across the States. A group of us friends in Jacksonville, Florida decided to make bowls and donate them for the local Empty Bowls Event that was hosted by the Lutheran Services. One summer we purchased supplies, taught ourselves to make clay bowls and decided to invite the community to have some fun. Almost a hundred people showed up and we sat down and crafted bowls from clay, painted them and had them fired at the kiln in the local museum. As our fingers kneaded and formed the clay, smiles and chatter filled the room; everyone had a wonderful time and went home slightly dusty but with the satisfaction of having contributed towards a good cause. Our donations were well received but we felt this was not enough.

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Next year we decided to host our own Empty Bowls Luncheon and alhumdolillah it was a great success. It brought the community together for a worthy cause, we were able to raise a significant amount and simultaneously create awareness of the problem of hunger. Our event had a distinctive Islamic flavor to it: we were motivated by the desire to please Allah subhanawatala by serving the people and our responsibility as Muslim neighbors to help those around us:

“And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive,

[Saying], “We feed you only for the countenance of Allah . We wish not from you reward or gratitude.”

(Surat Al-‘Insān 76:8-9)

Samosas and humus somehow made their way onto the menu and exquisite Islamic calligraphy graced the items on the auction table. The children sang Nasheeds and the Imam spoke about the importance of charity in Islam. A representative from the local food bank updated us on details about hunger in the community.

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Empty Bowls is dawah, art workshop, and charity all rolled into one! Allah subhanwatala has blessed each one of us with unique talents and abilities and we have an obligation to use the skills at our disposal to further the cause of social justice in our communities. Explore Empty Bowl Events in your area and then host one at your local school or Islamic Center. We have developed a blueprint for the event and would love to share it with anyone who is interested.

Sabeen Mansoori

Sabeen Mansoori

Live life with Ihsaan...“It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you.”(Al-Bukhari and Muslim)This is the definition Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave for the word ‘Ihsaan’ . Literally the word Ihsaan means ‘excellence’ and ‘beauty.’ Every act done with the consciousness of God is excellent and everything in which you can perceive the Maker is beautiful.My name is Sabeen Mansoori and I seek a life of ‘Ihsaan’ through my art and my writing. Art for me is an act of worship. It is the manifestation of my search to find God through His Words and through the sacred script I see etched across the Universe. In my paintings, as in my mind, the words of the Quran and the physical world merge. Sometimes the words appear on the landscape and sometimes the landscape appears in the words. Occasionally I paint or sketch the interior or exterior of a mosque, recognizing the spiritual beauty apparent in stone.
Sabeen Mansoori

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