Even a week and a half after an ice and snow storm blanketed Texas and knocked out water and electric service to millions across the state, mosques, Islamic relief organizations and even individual Muslims are still working to ensure their fellow Texas have the supplies they need.
During the weekend of Feb. 27 and 28, the Ismaili Council of Southwestern US and I-CERV, the Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering, teamed with Houston-area Fort Bend County to put on a water, food and clothes distribution at Hawa Masjid.
The Islamic community there is active in philanthropy, donating needed supplies during the devastating floods that hit Houston during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
In Houston, Sobia Ahmed also reached out to her friends of social media, urging them to contribute to her GoFundMe campaign targeted to those who had been hit hard by Winter Storm Uri, which hit the Lone Star State Feb. 15 with freezing temperatures, snowfall and icy and often dangerous roads, conditions most Texans are unused to and unprepared for.
“The storm brought so much devastation to families, individuals and animals,” Ahmed wrote. “I’m trying to repair some of that damage.”
But Houston-area Muslims aren’t the only ones looking to relieve the trials of their fellow man. When the Downtown Dallas Convention Center opened to that city’s homeless population as the temperatures fell and residents lost critical heat to their homes, Muslim leaders sprang into action.
Sheik Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Relief and a known speaker about Islam, contacted Hala Halabi at ICNA Relief, a non-profit Islamic organization. Halabi, who serves as the organization’s national director of refugee facilitation, quickly sprung into action.
“Omar contacted me to sponsor the homeless shelter, so we sent supplies with blankets, pillows, snacks, water and hygiene supplies,” she said. “We also needed to sponsor the food.”
From Syria to Dallas
When it came to cooking, Halabi said she knew just who to call: Shaza al Sharaa.
Al Sharaa is a Syrian refugee who now lives and works in Dallas, running Sham’s Kitchen, a food service named for her oldest daughter.
Halabi, who worked with al Sharaa and her family when they were settling in the United States, praised her and her dedication to providing quality food and service, particularly as she was working through widespread power outages and facing challenging access to supplies during the storm.
“(When I need volunteer help) I don’t go to any other place than Shaza,” she said. “I know the food will be the best quality, even the packaging. She is so good at everything she does, and this is not the first time of her being there for us and helping.”
And help she did. al Sharaa got to work with the help of her husband Faez al Sharaa, who gathered supplies and helped deliver the meals to the Convention Center – over 600 over the course of two days.
In the past, ICNA Relief worked with al Sharaa to set up her business, which can be found on Facebook under Sham’s Kitchen. Halabi said al Sharaa and her husband make the entire Muslim community proud. Suleiman called Shaza “an inspiration.”
And although Halabi said al Sharaa was willing to cook, package and deliver free of charge, ICNA Relief made sure she was property compensated.
“Everything ICNA Relief does goes back to the refugees we serve,” she said.
The storm and the extreme need it created also strengthened the bond between Dallas-area Muslims and Christians. The First United Methodist Church of Denton recently raised $50,000 to fund storm-related repairs at the Denton Islamic Society. The mosque is facing thousands of dollars in damage, and its Christian neighbors wanted to do their part.
Faraz Qureshi, the organization’s president, called the move a restoration of faith.
In a recent Friday sermon, Suleiman talked about the trails of the recent storm and said he hoped Muslims would use them to be even more appreciative of their blessings.
“Let it make us more patient and grateful,” he said, adding he hopes the Islamic community will take those lessons into Ramadan.
“I want us to think about how we take what happened and let it propel us forward,” he said. “One of our greatest blessings is that we go through these cycles of deprivation. It’s a good thing and healthy for us. It helps us to be more conscious of Allah and of those who don’t have those blessings.”