Two professional football players who are traveling the country during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan joined members of Lexington's Muslim community Wednesday to help feed the needy.
Brothers Hamza and Husain Abdullah, both National Football League free agents, helped pass out trays of food and clear tables at the Jacobs Hope Center Cafeteria on Loudon Avenue.
The meal was donated by the Share Center, a social-services group on Georgetown Street sponsored by Lexington's Muslim community, with help from the University of Kentucky Muslim Student Association.
About 200 clients of the Hope Center were treated to barbecue chicken, green beans, summer veggies and basmati, an Indian-style rice. As people left the cafeteria, many thanked the dozen or so volunteers. The rice, in particular, got rave reviews.
"It's not your average Uncle Ben's," said Ihsan Bagby, chairman of the Share Center.
The meal initially was intended to be provided only once, during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. However, it received such a positive reception from the Muslim community that the Share Center intends to supply at least one meal a month at the homeless shelter, Bagby said.
He said he hopes the meal and other initiatives by the Share Center will raise awareness and appreciation of Lexington's growing Muslim population.
"We want the general Lexington community to be understanding that we ... aren't strangers, we aren't foreigners," he said. "We are part and parcel of this community and we want to contribute to the betterment of this society."
Getting help from two NFL veterans can't hurt.
Hamza Abdullah, 28, played seven years for the Denver Broncos, the Cleveland Browns and, most recently, the Arizona Cardinals. Husain Abdullah, 27, played four years for the Minnesota Vikings.
The brothers announced in June that they would sit out the upcoming NFL season to perform the hajj, a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that is required of all Muslims who are able to make the journey.
The players said they didn't sign with teams this year because they didn't want to leave their teams hanging while they were out of the country for several weeks in October and November.
In the meantime, "we said, 'Let's hop in a minivan, let's go around the country, let's meet some people and let's do some good,'" Husain Abdullah said Wednesday. The brothers have spoken to youth groups and at mosques in dozens of cities since their journey began in Anaheim, Calif., in July, he said.
The Abdullah brothers hadn't planned to stop in Lexington until members of the UK Muslim Student Association reached out through Facebook and Twitter.
"We honestly did not have Lexington, Kentucky, on our map, but I'm glad and I'm fortunate and blessed to be here today," Hamza Abdullah said.
The brothers said they hope to return to the NFL after the hajj for the remainder of the season. They will have to work out and be scouted again, and there is no guarantee that teams will have openings they could fill.
However, they hope not only to find spots but to play on the same team. The two haven't played together since college, at Washington State, they said.
"We're praying that it's a team that has a chance to go to the big dance," Hamza Abdullah said.
Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197Twitter: @HLPublicSafety.