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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Houston's Muslims spend Eid helping the victims of Storm Harvey

No new clothes or treats, praying in a blocked-off area of a shelter, but the spirit of Eid is there

Volunteers with the Islamic Society of Greater Houston package donations at a mosque-turned-shelter. Houston's Muslim community, which numbers about 60,000, has opened many of its community centres and sent hundreds of volunteers to serve food and deliver donations. Some have rescued neighbours from high water. Jay Reeves / AP
Volunteers with the Islamic Society of Greater Houston package donations at a mosque-turned-shelter. Houston's Muslim community, which numbers about 60,000, has opened many of its community centres and sent hundreds of volunteers to serve food and deliver donations. Some have rescued neighbours from high water. Jay Reeves / AP

Like many Muslims, Shazia Ashraf was expecting to spend some time tidying up her home in Houston and preparing desserts in readiness for the guests that were coming to celebrate Eid Al Adha. She is also a chairwoman of the Sisters Committee, part of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH).

But this year, she has no home to clean and no kitchen in which to prepare family meals. This year, like so many, she has lost everything to Hurricane Harvey and its ensuing floods.

Everything, that is, except her positive spirit.

"The minute we realised the huge impact Harvey would cause on the city, ISGH started to mobilise its team of volunteers to prepare mosques as shelters and we updated our website to let people know," said Shazia, 37, who teaches maths at Lone Star College.

Between 80 and 100 homes in her neighbourhood have been severely damaged and Shazia has had to throw away every single piece of furniture and appliance.

“I have lived in Houston for nearly 30 years and lived through every single hurricane and natural disaster that has come this way but it has never been so devastating,” she said.

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Houston has the largest number of Muslims in Texas — about 60,000, making up 1.2 per cent of the population. They are a long-established community served by more than 40 mosques of all sizes. Many have suffered some level of damage which will take months to repair.

“The ceiling is leaking and the entire carpet of the mosque needs to be replaced which may cost almost $10,000,” said Dr Bilal Rana, president of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA Youth Association. He had spent the days helping people clean up their homes and co-ordinating he relief efforts with his team of volunteers

“We are using a makeshift mat to help people offer their Eid prayers We also advised people to carpool because so many of them have actually lost their vehicles in the flooding. The front yard of the mosque is in bad shape which means there is no place to park but the next door church has offered us their parking lot, ” he said.

The Champions Islamic Centre, also known as Masjid Al Salam, is hosting 15 people, down from a peak of 35, and though hundreds of worshippers were expected for prayers over Eid, the evacuees were not going anywhere. "They are the No1 priority. they will not be disturbed, they will not be displaced, they will not be moved," said M J Khan, president of the ISGH, which operates several mosques in Houston.

At the George R. Brown Convention Center, which gave shelter to around 10,000 people at its peak, Hasan Logan, 33, used chairs and shoes to block off a small prayer space for Muslims.

"It's hard (observing Eid), but I'm going to do it,"he said.

Ismail and Rabia Vaid have volunteered with the American Red Cross, which has run the shelter and expanded it as it doubled its original 5,000-person capacity. For several nights after their shifts ended, they slept in cots set aside for volunteers and then returned to do more.

"It's not about religion," Ismail Vaid said. "When a problem or chaos happens — whether it's natural or man-made — as a Muslim and as humanity, we have to participate."

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Read more:

Storm Harvey has shown the worst in Mother Nature but the best in people

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Every person The National interviewed said they were heartened by how the disaster has brought people of all faiths and ethnicities together.

“America has been experiencing so much unrest in relation to race and religion in the past year but this is an experience which shows that race and religion does not matter” said Chris Sizemore, 32, a graphic designer who is Christian but has spent the past week helping out both at her local church and mosque.

“Hurricanes don’t care about religion. This one didn’t come thinking that I am going to hit only Muslims or I am going to hit only Christians. We are exhausted and sad but equally happy to be helping each other,” she said.

From far and wide, Muslims have been raising funds to help flood victims. At the other end of the country, the Islamic Institute of America in Detroit dedicated Eid to raising money for storm victims. Leader of the institute, Imam Hassan Qazwin , said, "I believe opening your door on the day of Eid for refugees and people in need is a form of worship itself."

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Houston has rescued dozens of people in boats since Harvey struck the city. Now the imperative is to help those going back to flood-damaged homes to them clean up — and to keep feeding and caring for those who are still unable to return.

“We are not doing this to earn recognition," said Qasim Rashid, a member of Muslim Youth USA. "We are doing this because Islam commands us to do so and it is not an option for us. As Muslims we are obligated to help and it is our responsibility.”

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