For 14 years, Umar Hakim has devoted his life to working with people who depend on food stamps, public housing, homeless shelters, Medicaid and Social Security to survive.
As the associate director of ILM, a nonprofit grassroots organization founded by Muslims in Los Angeles, Hakim said he focuses on "everything Mitt Romney is ignoring" as the controversy continues over comments the Republican presidential candidate made in a leaked video about Americans who benefit from entitlement programs.
In the video, which was released this week but recorded at a May event in Florida, Romney tells donors that he cannot appeal to 47 percent of voters because they are "dependent on government" and "believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing." He added that he could "never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Hakim, who grew up in Compton, a Southern California city with a troubled history of poverty and violence, said he is thankful he never had to depend on government assistance as a working adult. But as someone whose work exposes him to struggling populations, from the chronically homeless residents of Skid Row in the city's downtown to the newly unemployed, Hakim said he feels for Americans now being dubbed the "47 percent."
Hakim said his organization, whose name comes from the Arabic word for "knowledge," works with people of all faiths in providing education, job training and medical care to the needy, but he emphasized that the inspiration for his work comes from Islam.
"Allah tells us to provide for the people. The fourth pillar of Islam is charity -- we call it zakat. Islam is structured to have open charity for those who are in need. It's second nature to Muslims to care for mankind by providing social services," said Hakim, 42.
"If you study the history of Islam and dig into the life of the Prophet Muhammed, you will see examples of how Islam grew from a small band of people into a government and how they provided for the people through zakat," he said. "It's almost like a system of welfare. In Islam, if you are a ruler of an Islamic community, you have responsibility to provide for your community."
Each year during Ramadan, Hakim and ILM volunteers organize Humanitarian Day, a service event where they go to impoverished communities to hand out food, offer medical screenings for problems like diabetes and hypertension, and teach self-care skills to struggling Americans. This year, the group held the event in eight California cities.
"The people we work with are everyday people having a hard time navigating through jobless America," said Hakim. "Mitt's comments are a direct result of him not being connected to the people and ignoring the climate of this country."