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.