ICNA Relief's Fundraising Dinner for Women's Shelter
By Saman Mahmood

The Islamic Circle of North America organized its Second Annual Fundraiser Dinner at the Anaheim Plaza Hotel on Saturday 15 Dec. 2012. ICNA Relief has brought Women’s Shelter to Southern California and this fundraiser was specifically geared towards continued support for the facility. With the objective of “Restoring Hope, Transforming Lives.” ICNA successfully raised $80,000, while many attendees contributed privately.

The speakers at the event were progressive-minded, articulate and represented a new generation of religious scholars who understand the context of the American society and the issues faced by the Muslim communities. More importantly, they were unapologetic and direct in addressing some of the core misguided tendencies amongst the Muslims in relation to family values, women and religion.

A transitional shelter is a very important step between an emergency shelter and independent living. An informational video shown at the event incorporated interviews of some of the residents of the Shelter, and their stories of abuse and survival and how ICNA has helped them to start afresh. It also conveyed that women at this Shelter are not just given protection, but professional case managers equip them with basic knowledge of balancing budget, opening checking account, driving, enrolling in school/college, availing scholarship opportunities, and volunteering themselves. “You will be amazed at the stories of resilience we hear every day from sisters rebuilding their lives after hardships. Our transitional shelter homes in New York City, Houston, and Baton Rouge (now in California) provide a safe haven for homeless women while they develop skills to become self-sufficient. Case managers assist these women as they heal and progress. Just alone in New York, we have serviced over 150 women since April 2008 by giving them a place to stay.”

The first speaker, Shaykh Mustufa Omar, trained in Islamic Studies from UK and France and a computer science professional, spoke eloquently on the cultural misconceptions created in Muslim societies pertaining to women and assigning religious reasoning to these customs. He stressed that Islam liberated women and gave them rights; however, the patriarchal traditions among Muslims have misconstrued many teachings and some, including honor killings and forced marriages, have pagan roots. He also spoke candidly of the concern among the American Muslim community that making such shelters would encourage women to leave their homes. He said that nothing could be farther from the truth because most of the women who come to these Shelters are severely abused, not only by husbands but often by their fathers. Additionally, these cases are rampant even among educated members of the community.

In most cases, family and friends are aware of the situation, but usually they choose to keep silent to preserve the ‘honor’ of the family. As such, the people who do not speak or step up to help these victims are a big part of the problem. He offered some solutions: firstly, the community at large needs to ‘fix’ its ideas of ‘honor’- there is nothing more dishonorable and cowardly as domestic violence; and secondly stop thinking that disclosing this would affect the well-being of the whole family. He cited many sayings of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) which explicitly instruct that women be respected, given protection and given their rights: “The best amongst you (Muslims) is the one who is best to his family. I am the best example to my family.” (Hadith).

The second speaker Shaykh Mohammad Suleiman, who is an Instructor with the Islamic Learning Foundation and Mishkah University, spoke of the root cause of domestic abuse leading to need for such Shelters. He believed that the cycle of patriarchy, where sons are favored over daughters, creates the mindset where women are viewed as lesser beings who have to be controlled. The issue of domestic violence has significantly increased, not only amongst the Muslim community, but across the United States. The Muslim community, he said, has the same issues as other communities but is extremely resistant to change and dialogue, which makes it lesser equipped to deal with the problem. There are superficial tendencies in the community in expressing religious orientation. More often than not, even the very educated question and doubt the genuineness of the victims that come to the Shelters.

Shaykh Mohammad Suleimanobserved that there are innumerable mosques in this community, for which funds are raised very easily. He said that the same enthusiasm should be shown towards Women Shelters, since they safeguard women and children, which is a cause closest to the spirit of Islam.

He observed that there was a reason that the Prophet (pbuh) tied Charity (Zakat) as one of the basis of Faith (Iman). It is our responsibility as a community to stand beside these women, and help them regain confidence, dignity and become productive members of the society. He narrated an instance where the Prophet (pbuh) was looking intently at the Ka’aba, and said, “…But what is more sacred that this (Ka’aba), is the honor of one Believer.”

For donations, please visit: www.icnarelief.org

Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), formally chartered in 1971 but active since 1968, is an Islamic North American grassroots umbrella organization . Some of the other causes ICNA is actively working on are: Disaster Relief Services, Muslim Family Services, Funeral Assistance, Emergency Financial Assistance, Hunger Prevention, Back to School Give Away, Health Care Clinics, Refugee Services Program and recently Hurricane Sandy Relief.

 

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