ICNA Relief Blog

This Ramadan, Will You Emerge as a Swan?

Just as gold is purified by fire, so also the fasts of Ramadan purify us so we can be our best selves, our most spiritual selves, for the rest of the year. Yes, Ramadan is the pond from which ducklings are meant to emerge as swans. And here we are, with only the last days, before the month is behind us. Hearing of journeys to Islam can be one of the best motivations for drawing closer to our spiritual goals, and holding fast to them well beyond Ramadan. We have just the story for you.

Meet Sr. Jane Aslam, Director of Disaster Relief Services, for ICNA Relief USA, a former pastoral worker. Twenty years ago, her role at a university in the South involved interfaith work. Meeting international students led her to learn about Islam. She embraced the faith two years later. Sister Jane's decision came with a price. A price that the faint of faith may have recoiled from. It cost her her marriage. It cost her her children, then about 4 and 6 years old. She lost her job, and her family of origin. She was asked to withdraw from the university.  She underwent court ordered psychiatric evaluations (only to be found to be among the most grounded of people). She said, twenty years ago, not only was it in the South, but Islam was seen as a cult.

Journey to Islam

As a mother, to have your children taken from you, to lose your place in society, to be robbed of all you've ever known. Talk about sticker shock. Has being Muslim been worth the cost to her?

"Alhamdollilah", Sr. Jane responds in a heartbeat. Judaism and Christianity gave her the ten commandments, she said, and Islam gave her the details as to how to fulfill those commandments. It's a process towards growth, she said. "For instance, the ten commandments forbids adultery and Islam shows you all the little things that keep you from inadvertently falling into it.  Because we don't intentionally set out to sin. Islam is about keeping life simple by providing guidance," she said.

One can't help but wonder how, when we are born into a faith, we often take it so lightly. We are even negligent with it. Yet to abide by that same faith, other people have made such huge sacrifices. The decades since then, for Sr.Jane, included a second marriage to a Muslim man, revisiting motherhood again, serving as a principal at an Islamic school, and working with FEMA. It involves embracing her now adult children from her first marriage, unconditionally. It also means being a beacon of hope to those who've lost everything in natural, man-made, and personal disasters.

ICNA Relief to the Rescue

Hurricane Katrina struck in Ramadan ten years ago. It was a hard-felt blow upon the community Sr. Jane lived in, the community she was raised in, the community where her family lives.  It was while responding to the needs of her overflowing masjid, that she was hired by ICNA Relief USA, to help provide assistance to hungry, tired, and stressed evacuees.  It was a time never to be forgotten, she says.

“ICNA Relief supported the needs of families who had lost everything, except their lives and what they carried in their car. It provided apartments and utilities, for families coming out of a shelter environment.  It provided transportation for those who could not return, nor afford to go forward, to meet their supporting family and/or friends.  ICNA Relief helped a family who desperately needed to fly an ailing child for emergency surgery,” Sr. Jane recalls.  Ten years later, Sr. Jane still remembers the pain and gratitude in their eyes, for the blessings Allah bestowed upon them through the generous donations and case work done by ICNA Relief USA.  

When Disasters Storm in, Whom Do You Count on?

Yes, Hurricane Katrina struck in Ramadan ten years ago. “ICNA Relief USA provided halal food for up to 300 masjid-shelter occupants, for suhoor and iftaars that year, and food for nearly 3-months after that.  Your donations helped make it happen. Local community volunteers provided the additional labor of shopping, cooking, and serving.  “ICNA Relief USA coordinated the volunteers and maintained the shelter operations, including a point-of-distribution for pantry food & cleaning supplies, and clothing; and also a medical assistance section, supported by Muslim doctors deployed to the state's university medical facility, providing for evacuated hospitals,” says Sr. Jane Aslam.


Together, ICNA Relief USA, Sr. Jane, and the local Muslim community were the face of North America's Muslims. Their efforts then, and now, were fueled by Allah, donors and volunteers like you. By Allah’s grace, Sr. Jane and her crew kept an overcrowded environment clean; sorted donations and helped families re-clothe themselves; and maintained registration information, while facilitating the reunification for family members looking for one another. “ICNA Relief supported families with referrals to disaster related relief resources and facilitated registration for governmental assistance, by training volunteers from among the evacuees and local LSU-MSA students.   ICNA Relief facilitated pantry food support and utility payment assistance for local-families who hosted others who couldn't return to their homes.  It even sent relief into outlying areas, including inner-city New Orleans and rural bayou communities,” says Sr. Jane.

Today, as Director of Disaster Relief Services at ICNA Relief USA, Sr. Jane knows that her true calling is being able to bring help to survivors of disasters. This Ramadan, may her story inspire your own transformation. This Ramadan, please donate generously so she can continue to reach the families hardest hit when disasters storm in. Ameen.


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Gutting Out Hope in Michigan

By Ariz Saleem


Felesha Reynolds is a woman of courage. She is a mother of two boys, one 4-year-old and the other 12 years of age. Felesha was generous enough to share her story with us. She lives in Redford, Michigan about a mile away from Detroit. She is 34-years-old now and owns a home that has been severely damaged from a recent flood which impacted the area in August of 2014.

Her story begins when she bought her house in Michigan. She was settling in and getting prepared for a new life ahead for herself and her children. It must have been a relief and a moment of pride to know that she had come to own her own property. By Grace, she had advanced to the next level in life.

Little did she know that she would be taking a step backwards on this journey of life, but perhaps, in spiritual terms, yet another step forward. 

Before the house was set up to Felesha's contentment, the flood struck devastating the roof and flooding the entire house. At first, she thought the damage was not very extensive, only to find out later that it was indeed a tragedy that would be difficult to bounce back from. Mold had begun to form and soon spread throughout the house. It infected the furniture, floor, and structural elements of the house. On describing the hardwood floor, Felesha commented, “It's like a wave.” No longer habitable,

Felesha took her two sons and left for her mother's place. The flood hit seven months ago. Today, Feleshais still bouncing between her friend's house and her mother's house. “Being injured and on a one person income is difficult,” Felesha commented. She currently supports herself and her two sons with the Social Security income she receives from the government.

Felesha related a story where she paid someone to fix some of the damages. After doing some work on the house, he simply disappeared. This only added to Felesha's worries. When asked how she came across ICNA Relief, she mentioned that a friend of hers decided to share her information with us. ICNA Relief Disaster Response team was visiting the neighborhood at the time in January.

Soon after we showed up to assess the property, Felesha was delighted. “I never knew something like this even existed. I was also excited about it,” Felesha shared. Arif Ali, ICNA Relief Disaster Response Staff, and his team were the subject of Felesha's appreciation. “They were really good. Everyone." she said. "You can see their heart was really there. They were sweet people. You meet someone you don't know and you feel uncomfortable but I felt like I known them for a long time.” 

Felesha was on and off the site during the mold-removal process. Naturally invested in her future, she also contributed to the remediation of her home. “They was really surprised I was helping,” she continued. Felesha described what it felt like to be receiving help at such a crucial time. “It was something new and it was also when I felt overwhelmed...no funds and not getting help. It was a light in a tunnel. It was a start. A little view. What they think was little, it was big for me. It wasn't something I was able to do by myself and now I had help.”

During my conversation with her, I couldn't help but notice Felesha's strong spirit. She wasn't down on her luck about her situation but was rather hopeful. Her words painted the picture of a beautiful character illuminating the darkness of hardship. “Everything will work out with time. But it's never gonna work out the way you want it to,” she said speaking from a place of wisdom and courage.

Further testament to her character came when I asked her whether her interaction with ICNA Relief impacted her perception of Islam and Muslims. “I never felt any way about anybody. I learn never to judge. People judge other people. I never judge and don't want other people to do the same. I never had a bad feeling,” Felesha stated making her position clear. She welcomed the Muslim organization with an open and tolerant mind from the get-go.

Currently, Felesha is at a stand-still due to insufficient funds to complete the restoration of her house. The mold removal was a great burden lifted from her on the journey to a fully recovered house. “I'm trying to figure out the next step. I do want to live there. Be comfortable. When you don't have a home it's uncomfortable. When you have small ones with you it's even more difficult. When it's them, I don't like it.”

Despite the challenges, Felesha pushes forward with hope and gratitude. She left me with a word of appreciation for the team that helped her in her time of need. “Tell them that thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. They didn't have to do it. For them to take time out of their life to be able to be an asset to help my children...I appreciate it and can never thank them enough. Tell them God bless them and thank you.”


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Finding Home Again


On August 29th 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana soil. The devastating effects of this storm have left us awed and overwhelmed. Ten years later we are entering 2015 with a renewed spirit to uplift the communities and neighborhoods that were affected by this tragedy. On January 5th, ICNA Relief had the honor of being a part of this noble effort to rebuild and restore New Orleans.


ICNA Relief's Director of Disaster Response, Jane Aslam, was working with staff and volunteers to rebuild a home on the corner of South Scott Street in Mid-City New Orleans. On this cool sunny day, students from local MSAs, families, and friends came together to make a difference. A mix of hoodies, hijabs, and hats colored the scene with an atmosphere of unity and collaboration. The siding of the yellow painted house was being replaced and caulked in preparation for painting. Volunteers stood on scaffolding that they had recently set up. Inside, debris was being removed and window frames were being painted. The ICNA Relief 'Muslims for Humanity' T-shirts were swimming in and around the house, embodying the slogan in real time.




Amongst the group of hard workers was Hannan Albassisi, mother of Eman, a student volunteer with the MSA of Xavier University. Hannan first heard of the rebuild project from her daughter at home. “601 South Scott Street,” Eman said to her mother. At first, she thought it was a joke. “Oh my God!” exclaimed Hannan after Eman insisted she was serious. It was a shock. Hannan immediately picked up the phone to call her sisters, nieces, nephews, and friends to join her in the effort to rebuild her childhood home.


Hannan was born in Detroit, Michigan. Her parents migrated from Palestine to the United States. At the age of six, her family moved to New Orleans, where she lived in the very same house she stood before on that beautiful Monday morning. “Back then the house was white with a red porch,” Hannan explained. While on site, she revisited her past as old memories rose to the surface. “The whole block was one big living room. Everyone was out on the porch. The kids would be playing together, as the parents sat watching. We were the outdoor generation,” Hannan reminisced. Upon visiting the backyard she recalled burying her kitten there. In years past, there were several times that she drove by South Scott street and made a point to share her childhood memories with her kids. This day, she had the chance to literally show them exactly where it was that she fell and broke her arm or where she would play 1,2,3 red-light with her friends.


While Eman and her friend painted inside, she yelled to them, “Make sure my windows look nice!” Clearly, Hannan's sense of ownership and love for her home are very much alive. She lived in this house from age six to nineteen, spending her formative years here. She was very proud and invested in contributing to the rebuild project.




In addition to New Orleans, ICNA Relief USA's Disaster Response team recently visited Columbia, Mississippi. Columbia is a small rural town in the southern Mississippi Delta with a population of 6,400 people. An EF3 tornado stormed through this area on Christmas Eve leaving over 100 families without homes and 5 people dead.  This was a heavy blow to bear for this small, close-knit community. Our Director of Disaster Relief Services, Sister Jane Aslam, joined by her sister, niece, and great-niece journeyed to Columbia, her native town.  When they contacted the Community Donation and Volunteer Center, they learned that the food supply had run out. Evening phone calls were made in a frenzy of concern and eagerness to help. By the next day, volunteers were purchasing, packaging, and delivering food to families that were now doubling-up in the homes of their relatives.


While in Columbia, Sister Jane visited the community cemetery. As she stood at the feet of her parents' graves, she noticed the head stones surrounding theirs. The etched names echoed back the story of her past. Uncles, aunts, great-uncles, aunts, and other kin lay resting together. At this moment, it dawned on her that she was literally standing at the "roots of her family tree". She was home. While witnessing the traces of her ancestors, she was overcome by a feeling of deep gratitude for being the first among her family to receive the blessing and beauty of the Islamic tradition.


Sister Jane's father, a home-builder, moved from Columbia to help rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Betsy struck in 1965. History has come back full circle now that Sister Jane has traveled from her current residence in Louisiana to help the people of Columbia, Mississippi.


As a convert to Islam, Sister Jane is among those Muslims that have deep roots in this country, and with that comes a natural attachment and desire to keep the home safe and happy for all those that reside in it. The story of Hannan Albassisi is not so different. Although, her ancestors come from a land faraway called Palestine, she is growing new roots in fresh soil. The work of ICNA Relief USA is unearthing new meanings of home for those taking part in the transformation and healing of our communities.



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University of Illinois Students Travel to New York To Participate in ICNA Relief's Brooklyn Rebuild

Even two years after Hurricane Sandy, many homeowners still don’t have their lives back together because the damage to their homes was so extensive that they’re still rebuilding.

Earlier this year, ICNA Relief held a New York Rebuild on Long Island along with Nechama, the Jewish disaster response agency, to repair Sandy-damaged homes on Long Island.

This November, ICNA Relief is holding another rebuild in Brooklyn, NY in collaboration with Resurrection Brooklyn and Rebuilding Together NYC to repair homes Sandy damaged in Sheepshead Bay. The former is network of Presbyterian churches currently on a mission to provide resources and assistance to homeowners rebuilding homes destroyed by Sandy.

Rebuilding Together NYC, is a non-profit housing organization that "provide[s] free critical home repairs for low-income homeowners, primarily those who are elderly, disabled, and veterans with help from volunteers."

Forty students from the Muslim Student Association of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign came out from more than 800 miles away to volunteer with ICNA Relief USA. For two days, the students with guidance from experts from Resurrection Brooklyn and Rebuilding Together NYC have been mudding and taping drywall in three houses across Sheepshead Bay.

Click here to see more photos.


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This Is Our Disaster Response Team At Work in Detroit

ICNA Relief's Disaster Response Team is one of the hardest working teams out there. Since making their way to the Detroit Metro/Dearborn area after record flooding in the city, they've already mucked out and gutted the basements of seven homes and helped clean up the basement of a local Islamic center. 

Help out our team -- Donate to Disaster Relief!



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19-Year-Old Gets Scholarship for Volunteer Work with ICNA Relief's Disaster Response Services

Just 19 but making his mark, Br. Hammad Shaikh of Miami-Dade County was awarded a scholarship from the Asian American Advisory Board for his volunteer work with ICNA Relief USA's Disaster Response Services this past Saturday. 

"I'm just grateful for this opportunity to give back and be a part of something different," he said. "Not everyone gets to go to disaster areas and give to those in need; to show that there are American Muslims that care about giving back to their neighbors."

The University of Miami student is CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) certified and first participated with ICNA Relief's Disaster Response Services after the Tennessee Floods of 2010. He recently came back from being deployed to Mississippi in early May after joining the post-tornado recovery effort there. Fourteen had died in the state after a tornado outbreak there and in surrounding Southern states.

"The second time around I had a greater idea of what to expect," Br. Hammad said. "I talked to the [affected homeowners] and their children. We got to show that Muslims came all the way from Miami just to help."

Br. Hammad will be receiving a $500 check for each year of his four years in college and he plans to donate some part of this amount to ICNA Relief. He has previously pledged $5,000 to the charity.

But the awards didn't end there. As a part of his win, the Asian American Advisory Board also gifted ICNA Relief USA a brand new laptop.

Florida Senator Oscar Braynon congratulated Br. Hammad and commended him for being part of a great project. The senator said he would happy to write the young man a recommendation letter if he ever needed one.

Br. Hammad said more Muslim Americans needed "to go out and be a part of community by helping out not just in the masjids but to help other fellow Americans that are around us." He said that only when we go out to these disaster-stricken areas is when we realize how much we should be thankful for all that we have.

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Orlando Students Plant Trees for ICNA Relief's School Restoration Project
On Thursday May 15th, ICNA Relief's director of Hunger Prevention Br. Arthur Richards spent the morning leading ICNA Relief's first school restoration project in a local Islamic school in Orlando, FL. Joining him were 150 children from the Muslim Academy of Greater Orlando who enthusiastically participated to help beautify their school. "This is my community and it's a blessing to be able to give back to the youth of tomorrow," Br. Arthur said.
Principal Br. Jameer Abbas appreciated ICNA Relief coming out to his school to head this project. “First thing I want to do is thank ICNA Relief," he said. "It was wonderful to have the support of this organization in this venture with us. Landscaping wise it looks wonderful, gets great comments from community and parents. And as far as children are concerned it was certainly fun, but more importantly it was a learning experience. We hope this is just a beginning of this relationship."


Sixth grader Ahmad Alkhateeb enjoyed taking part in the activity and said, "Helping the environment is a really good thing to do as a Muslim.” In addition to planting trees, Br. Arthur told students about ICNA Relief's numerous programs designed to help the less fortunate.


"I think it's really great because they help people who don't have food or a home so that they can get a job," said third grader Sabah Irfan.




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Read About Our Disaster Response Team's 10-Day Tornado Recovery Effort in Rural Mississippi 
ICNA Relief's Disaster Response Team was in Tupelo from May 2nd to the 11th. 
Tupelo, Miss. -- ICNA Relief USA's Disaster Response Team was deployed in Tupelo, a city in Northeast Mississippi with a population of around 35,000, for 10 days after the recent tornado out-break that killed 14 people in the state and impacted several other Southern states as well. Our Disaster Response Team Lead Br. Arif Ali traveled to Tupelo to assess the damage and begin post-tornado efforts in neighboring rural areas.

When Br. Arif Ali, pulled up in front of Masjid Abraham in Tupelo, Mississippi, a man came out rushing towards him. “I thought I parked wrong,” Br. Arif said. But instead of reprimanding him, the man said, “Alhumdulillah you’re here -- how did you know we needed help?”

Ever since the tornado-outbreak of late April that started in Arkansas, a lot of media attention has been on the state where 16 people died and which was the first to be hit. As charities and aid organizations made their way to Little Rock, ICNA Relief USA’s Disaster Response Team made its way to Tupelo, where numerous local businesses and homes have been damaged.

Whole sections of restaurants and hotels have been obliterated, leaving nothing but a mass of planks and broken furniture scattered nearby; their once towering sign boards bearing their names now lying flat on the dirt. Many houses have had trees fallen on them while the neighboring home is untouched by damage. Across the state of Mississippi 14 people have died mostly in rural areas. 

The man who met Br. Arif that day was none other than the acting imam at the masjid Br. Abdul Raheem Khan. He said it was a blessing to have ICNA Relief at his masjid and expressed his relief at seeing their truck pullover for the first time: “It was more than just ‘help is here’ but ‘Muslim help is here.’” But he wondered why he wasn’t seeing the type of media coverage places like Arkansas were getting to attract greater support for his own city. “I don’t mean to be reacting negatively but do more people have to die here?”

“As the camera pans so follow the resources leaving other disaster-stricken communities not in the spotlight relatively fewer resources to get back on their feet,” said Sr. Jane Aslam, director of Disaster Response Services. ICNA Relief’s goal is to help people living in areas that won’t necessarily make it on T.V. “Therefore we choose to serve the underserved -- those lacking the media attention and who are the greatest in need,” she said.

That’s why ICNA Relief has been working in places like nearby rural Marietta, — which has not been in the news — clearing up debris from damaged houses, cutting fallen trees found littered on the ground and on top of houses, and tarping homes. It is an immense opportunity for the Muslim community to reach out to our American brothers and sisters to wipe away ugly stereotypes. Disaster Response team leader Br. Arif Ali described his encounter with an elderly, disabled homeowner whose mobile home he recently tarped, “He looked and looked and he came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder and said Fourth of July -- he invited me to have corn with him on the Fourth of July.”

Our other team leader Imam Rafiq had a similar heart-warming exchange with the homeowner who thanked him and added, “You’ve really changed hearts and minds. You changed my heart and mind.”

Br. Abdul Raheem Khan, who came out to volunteer with ICNA Relief in Mantachie, MS along with his mother-in-law, said he was looking for a way to do “dawah through practical work” and he found it.  The mobile home he worked on with fellow ICNA Relief volunteers from Florida had flipped over a 180 degrees and crashed into an electric pole. The house which otherwise would’ve taken homeowner Robert six months to demolish, was done so in two days. To show his appreciation he and his family arranged lunch for the whole Disaster Response Team and all volunteers.

"I've had a tremendous amount of help; ICNA Relief has done a great job," Robert said. "They're very nice and done so much work that I can't explain -- I would have moved on in three minutes. It’s a hot day and they’re still working,” he said.
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Disaster Response Team Deployed to Mississippi in Wake of Tornado Outbreak

ICNA Relief USA's Disaster Response Team has deployed team leader Br. Arif Ali to Mississippi, where 9 people died as a result of deadly tornadoes that raged through the state on Monday. Br. Arif will set up in the town of Tupelo, "a community of about 35,000 in northeastern Mississippi, [where] every building in a two-block area south of U.S. Highway 78 suffered damage," according to news reports

Help tornado victims now, please donate by using disaster relief as your preference!

If you live near (or in) a tornado-impacted area in Mississippi and wish to volunteer, click here.

Stay up-to-date using Facebook.

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