In the past month, the South and Southeastern regions of the United States were besieged by climate-related disasters. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma left at least 116 people dead and an estimated $290 billion in damages in their wake.
Motivated by the core Islamic teaching to aid those in need through compassion and service, American Muslim individuals and organizations nationwide mobilized to provide emergency disaster relief services preceding and following the onslaught of the storms.
In Houston, at least 25 mosques opened their doors to function as shelters, donation sites, supply distribution hubs, or fundraising spaces for the victims of Hurricane Harvey. American-Muslim-owned restaurants passed out hundreds of free meals to the 9,000 people sheltered in the city’s downtown convention center. The Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH), an umbrella organization of local Islamic centers and mosques, compiled a list of on-call American Muslim physicians to aid anyone in need of medical services. (Note: There are about 50,000 American Muslim medical doctors across the nation saving lives every day.)
Demonstrating the spirit of concern encouraged by his faith, ISGH president M.J. Khan publicly announced in media interviews, “If you have no place to go, go to your neighborhood mosque.”
More than 57 American Muslim organizations across the nation joined efforts to raise funds, with ICNA Relief USA dedicated over $250,000 to relief efforts. In Dallas, 300 volunteers packed a room to attend an emergency shelter training held by Islamic Relief to assist with the influx of evacuees coming to Dallas. ICNA Relief-Dallas solicited in-kind donations, partnering with local mosques to serve as donation drop-off centers, and coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with recovery and cleanup.
Following the catastrophic destruction of Hurricane Irma, mosques in Florida and Georgia emulated their counterparts in Houston and Dallas to offer shelter and distribute aid. Atlanta’s Al Farooq Masjid created a map of more than 20 Islamic centers and mosques in the state providing assistance to hurricane evacuees.
Such outpourings of human and financial resources by the American Muslim community are nothing new. After Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc, a number of American Muslim organizations came together to form the Muslim Hurricane Task Force, which pledged to collect $10 million for the affected. Then too, mosques were on the frontlines of relief efforts, functioning as shelters, donation hubs and health clinics.
It is these very mosques and Islamic centers, these pillars of community, faith and service, which have become targets of Islamophobic bigotry. Anti-Muslim extremists and politicians have demanded mosques be subject to surveillance and shut down, and dozens of mosques have suffered threats, arson and vandalism. In the first half of 2017 CAIR recorded a 125 percent increase in the number of anti-mosque incidents as compared to the same period in 2016.
Bias incidents targeting American Muslim communities have likewise skyrocketed over the past year. Comparing the first half of 2017 with that of 2016, hate crimes have increased 91 percent. In June, hundreds of anti-Muslim agitators collaborated with white supremacist groups to hold rallies demonizing Islam. In January, the president of the U.S. instituted an executive order originally conceived as a way to ban Muslim entry into the country.
These are just a handful of examples which seek to illustrate the toxic Islamophobic atmosphere that pollutes America and which American Muslims live and breathe every day. In spite of this, American Muslims launch into action, devoting time, energy and resources to help whenever their fellow Americans are in need because that is what their faith requires them to do.
This spirit of service is evident through innumerable examples. American Muslims in southern California founded UMMA Clinic, which provides free quality healthcare to the poor & underserved. IMAN Central works to address violence & poverty in Chicago. ICNA Relief operates 27 food pantries and kitchens, and 5 free health clinics across the country.
Following arson targeting eight black churches in the South, a group of American Muslim organizations launched an online campaign that raised over $100,000 for rebuilding costs. When Jewish cemeteries were vandalized earlier this year, an online American-Muslim-led fundraiser raised over $100,000 in just over 24 hours. American Muslims donated 30,000 bottles of water to Flint, Michigan to help ameliorate the water crises.
Even as they are targeted for their faith, American Muslims exemplify their religious principle of being a benefit to society by supporting the country they reside in. As M.J. Khan eloquently said, “This is an obligation, a religious obligation to help others.”
Orginally published Sept. 20, 2017 in the Orlando Sentinel.