Today, on this Day of Arafat, I want to tell you about a little girl I met last weekend.
She is a precious little princess with big beautiful eyes, soft cheeks and petite frame – humble and very patient. She is probably 5. I will call her Aisha for the sake of this post.
I saw Aisha with her grandma who was trying to find an Eid outfit for the family members at MY Eid Goodwill Bazaar set by MY Project USA. There were gently used and new Pakistani/Indian/American pretty outfits for boys and girls of all ages and sizes. We were selling them for a dollar or two. We were also passing many of them as gifts.
I helped Aisha finding an outfit for her. She was not too excited in the beginning as if she already knew she might not get anything at the end of this "shopping." She was more patient than many adults I have seen in my life. Luckily we found some really nice outfits for her. I gave her one as a gift and her grandmother bought the rest for a couple of bucks. She was super happy and I might be happier than herself. So were many other little kids.
I have always been passionate about helping refugees and other unfortunate people throughout my life. From Kashmir to America, I have met with dozens of desperate people along this road that’s called humanitarian actions, but meeting Aisha and other little princesses like her in my own city that day has just reinforced my sense of urgency even more. It's not just about feeding or clothing them once in a while. Indeed its more about protecting them the drug dealers, traffickers and other crimnals that are preying upon these vulnereable kids. Therefore on this day of Arafat, I would like to remind everyone that the need of strenghthening the humanitarian actions at so many level is very urgent. We must do all in our capacity to protect our vulnerable children and their familes before it is too late for more people. I call upon all imams and community leaders to joinn hands with MY Project USA in protecting our precious little princesses.
Prior to this bazaar, I never met so many kids at one time that were so desperate to have Eid clothes with parents who couldn't afford an Eid outfit for just $5. It broke my heart as soon as we took the stuff to their neighborhood. There were so many little kids with wide beautiful eyes, so precious. Most of them were underdressed. Some boys wore no shirts and no shoes. Girls were in oversized or undersized shirts. Most of them had deep eyes and won’t even smile as if they are not children anymore. I just wanted to hold and hug all of them. I also wanted to hug their moms who were doing their best in finding the best outfits for their families while keeping their dignity through bargaining the prices. We let them set the prices of the outfits and made sure that they had everything they needed from our inventories. It sure helped them in taking care of a short term issue, but they have many long-term more pressing issues.
This is one of the poorest neighborhood on the west side of Columbus, OH. This apartment complex has 690 apartments and almost 80% of them are occupied by Muslim refugees mostly from Somalia. Families in this neighborhood have an average of five or more children. Just this one neighborhood might have a couple of thousands children that are living way below the poverty line. Most parents know no or very little English. A majority of them are single mothers with no job skills. Many of them are still traumatized and need help from mental health professionals. All of these factors make this neighborhood an ideal one for drug dealers, gangs, pimps and other criminals that prey on the vulnerable children day in and out.
The scariest part of this story is the fact that this is just one apartment complex. There are dozens of such neighborhoods in Columbus alone. An estimated number of 20 -25 thousands Muslim youth just in the greater Columbus area are at risk of being drugged, slaved or violated in one way or the other.
It's heartbreaking and alarming to know how divided our community is. Just ten miles from this neighborhood is one of the wealthiest Muslim communities. This community has no idea about the existence of such kids right here in their own backyard. Except some community members that are now paying attention to MY Project USA’s campaign and my personal posts, most of the community is still disconnected from this reality. These are God-fearing, beautiful people with the most generous hearts. They are investing in grooming their mosque and keeping their Islamic rituals as pure as they could. They are doing as they are told. May Allah SWT reward them for their good intentions and for following their leaders. But this truly is a crises.
Unfortunately, this there is not just one community like this. There are hundreds of thousands of such communities across the globe.
It’s not a coincidence that millions of Muslims fasting and chanting Allah’s praises today, while hundreds and thousands of little princesses like Aisha are being violated and sold in slavery by groups and regimes like Boko Haram, ISIS, Syrian Army, Taliban and many others. Millions of our children, sisters and unfortunate brothers are displaced from their homes. They are forced into starvation, slavery, prostitution and so many other unimaginable, inhumane situations that are incomprehensible to many of us. Yet we as a community are not talking about resolving their miseries in concrete ways.
Today on this Day of Arafat, the social media is full of videos and memes reminding people of the importance of this day. Renowned and popular imams and scholars have released statements encouraging people to spend their days in pleasing Allah SWT and asking for forgiveness. We are told to fast, to praise Allah SWT loudly, to read Quran more than usual, to give charity and to gather in the mosques to break our fast together as a community.
There is a great problem in these messages. In the presence of millions of refugee children and families suffering all over the world and within our communities, all these happy, pious celebrations, loud takbeerahs (chanting) and iftaar gatherings in mosques don’t make any sense. Other than the donation appeals, nobody is really talking about what as a community we should be doing to address the plight of these displaced people within our communities. We are not talking about the protection and empowerment of these precious children and their families.
I am a Muslim woman. I am a mother. I am not a scholar and am very limited in my Islamic studies. I have a social limit to reach out to all these community members who follow their imams.
Through this post, I am not challenging any scholar or imam here. Instead I am seeking help. If I had time, I would write a better post with tons of references to hadith and Quran, but today I have to prepare my house for two dozen people who are coming to pack food for 150 families in Aisha’s neighborhood.
I leave that research part to our scholars. I hope that some of my beloved imams and teachers including Imam Zaid Shakir, Dr. Yasir Qadhi, Ustadh Noman Ali Khan, Sh. Hamzah Yusuf and Imam Maged would pick up the ball from here.
In the last three years, I have reached out to almost all celebrity imams/scholars/teachers in Muslim American community. I have personally requested Imam Zaid Shakir, Dr. Qadhi, Sh. Omar Suleiman, Sh. Abdul Nasir Jangda at the ISNA Convention earlier this month to help me in waking up the community. Through this post, I call upon all of them again and others to accept the responsibility of organizing the community to address this grave and urgent situation.
Remember that all those little girls are our princesses. They are our responsibility. Those little boys too are as precious as our own children. On the Day of Judgement, a humanitarian action to protect and empower these kids would hopefully help us more than anything else would.
On this Day of Arafat, let’s ask Allah SWT to help and guide us in saving all our precious children. May He grant us with the right kind of religious and community leaders that would lead us to take right humanitarian actions on right time. May He forgive us for our ignorance and accept our sincere work for His sake. May He protect all our children from all kinds of evil, ameen.
You may send your donations to MY Project USA as the first step on this road of humanitarian action for the sake of Allah.