On March 19th, 2012, in Philadelphia, a tiny, 6-year-old boy, Khalil Wimes, was murdered after being a victim of prolonged abuse at the hands of his own biological, so-called "Muslim parents." Twenty nine days later on April 17th, 2012, another little boy, Abdifatah Mohamud, 10, was beaten to death by his stepdad in Buffalo, New York.
I was the Campaign Manager at Project Sakinah at that time. The details of those two murders were devastating to me personally. The more I would learn about the abusive life of little Khalil and the brutal murder of Abdifatah; the more I would cry. I never met with them or had known them in their lives, but I felt as if they were part of me – my own flesh – perhaps my nephews. For me, their murders renewed my personal commitment to address the child abuse even more seriously. I then wrote my first blogpost about them, Khalil Wimes and Abdifatah Mohamud: Two Little Victims of One Big Crime, Child Abuse.
Three years later, here I am – looking at their pictures – their beautiful faces and bright eyes – and evaluating my own progress.
These three years have passed faster than I imagined. We have accomplished some goals of raising awareness within the community, but the need of comprehensive parental education program and its parallel youth support and empowerment programs within the Muslim-American community remains there. Through a combination of direct and educational services provided to both parents and kids at MY Project USA, I am hoping to address that need now.
In the above-mentioned post and many other posts, I have been talking about the community's role and responsibility in addressing child abuse within Muslim-American families. In all my writings, I have spoken as a mother, as a community activist, as a community member, and as a professional who wants to use her talent and skills to save and build our community. I am not a social worker or a mental health professional. I am a media person, a campaign maker and a community organizer. So I look towards my colleagues from social work and mental health backgrounds to educate me on these issues.
Those are the people more educated and eloquent than myself. They have done their research and have been offering training and workshops about youth issues and what needs to be done to the interested communities across the country for years. These are the amazing minds with solid records of academic and organizational achievements, but they are too stretched in addressing our community’s huge needs with very scarce resources. They need help.
Due to their overwhelming presence in my social media network, on my newsfeeds sometimes it seemed as if everybody was talking about child abuse and that so much was happening, but unfortunately it was mere online activism. The on-the-ground reality was different. There was not a single national program that was actually focused on just the protection and empowerment of today’s victims and regular children so they could become leaders in next 10-15 years. It was not the question of why and when should we start such a program. Instead it was the question of how and with whom we must start such a program sooner, rather than later. In our situation, a joint team of social services providers, media professionals and community organizers became a necessity and was long overdue.
Hence, I decided to move from Project Sakinah, an awareness program, to launch MY Project USA so I could directly partner with the mental health professionals to create programs and services that might protect and empower our Muslim American youth and families for years to come. I was blessed to have support of some very dedicated professional. With their help and Allah’s blessings, in Khalil’s memory, we launched it this month.
Of course, this launching is just the first step of a very long journey. As the clock is ticking and I am writing this from a corner of my comfortable home-office, countless more children are being abused, neglected, molested, trafficked and failed due to the absence of such active partnerships within our communities right here in the United States of America. Unless the community joins hands with those of us who are working very hard to save our children, we will keeping failing more and more children.
Three years after their death, as I sit in my office and look in the eyes of Khalil and Abdifatah, I wonder where I will be three years from now. I have told them that their Aunty Zerqa has not forgotten them. In fact, they live with me every day. I am doing my best in my circumstances to save so many other kids in the similar situations, but I am only a human being with limited resources. Like all other social service providers, I can only do so much at a time. I am telling them to be patient with me and our community. We are getting there. One day, we will get to the point when addressing child abuse, youth protection, and parental education will become our community’s priority. Yes, I have faith that there will be a day when Muslim American community will be more interested in building community and helping their most vulnerable ones than building more buildings, inshaAllah.
Until then, on behalf of all Muslim social service providers, organizations and professionals, I pray to my Lord, the Lord of the Universe, the Owner of all treasures, hidden or known, to grant us with the resources – people and things – that we need to protect our babies, to help their parents, to stop the violence and to grow peace and tranquility within our families. I ask Him to be our Provider and Sustainer, because without His help and in the absence of the community’s support, we will keep failing more Khalils and Abdifatahs. I ask Him to help us to grow MY Project USA into what we have envisioned it for. I ask Him to wake our community up before it is too late. Ameen Allahumma Ameen.