Amaanah is the Arabic word for a sacred trust. Al Amaanah is an organization was founded in 2008 as a zakat (charity) collection and distribution network, which later evolved into a refugee service organization, as a result of the local refugee population. Al Amaanah’s mission is to assist refugees with their integration into society through a variety of services, including help with housing, social integration, an after-school program, a weekend Islamic school and more.
This past weekend, we had scheduled another round of family visits; out of the six families we had planned to visit, we were only able to see five. The majority of our staff is made up of college students, which means that they juggle school with their service work. It is this spirit of sacrifice that makes them unique. May Allah protect them and their families and enter them all into firdaws al a`laa (the highest level of heaven) without accounting, ameen.
Over 1,500 refugees, primarily Muslims, arrive in the greater Houston area every year. They get a maximum of 6 months of help from resettlement agencies, during which they need to learn the language, get jobs, and become self-sustaining. Families come here broken. They don’t speak the language, their degrees don’t transfer, there’s a huge culture shock, and their lives are destroyed. Many of these families are missing members: some have been kidnapped, some have been tortured, and many have watched others die. The situation is miserable. Al Amaanah emerged as a leader in refugee services from the Muslim community. Over the years we’ve become a 501(c)(3) and our growth has been phenomenal. As we continue to grow, we seek to maintain the personal touch that we began with. Our core work is in support services. One of the most important things we do with our clients is visit.
Our first stop was Brother Amir* and his family. Brother Amir is the head of a household that includes his mother, his wife and 3 teenage boys. Subhan’Allah (glory be to God), Amir’s mother’s generosity continues to amaze me. She doesn’t let us step outside the door unless we eat or drink something from what she has prepared.
Humor aside, I left their house with a melted heart. We thought they were doing well, but little did we know. Subhan’Allah, their family of six moved from a 3-bedroom apartment into a 2-bedroom apartment because they couldn’t afford it anymore. Brother Amir has a physical disability, which makes it difficult for him to find work. The three boys go to high school and work after to earn a little income. The women aren’t able to work because they only speak Arabic. While I was sitting in their living room I couldn’t hold back my tears. A man old enough to be my father was asking me, a college student, to help him take care of his family. He was telling me the emotional torture of not being able to support his mother, wife and children and handed me a few bills that he has been unable to pay, one of them being the electricity that would be cut off in another six days. It was difficult to hold myself together but I did everything I could and gave him words of encouragement. Alhamdulillah, his hope in Allah (swt) was strong. He kept telling me that we are the sabab or reason, and Allah (swt) is the One who truly provides.
Next, we were off to meet two young Afghani boys, who we’ll call Bilal and Omar. We used to visit them a lot during the summer, but since the semester started our meetings have been very limited. We spent some valuable time together catching up on each others’ happenings and joking. The time for maghrib (the prayer after sunset) came in, so we offered our prayers and headed to our next destination.
Our third stop was a breath of fresh air, alhamdulillah—Abu Jamal, his wife, and three young boys. Our Field Operations team recently helped them move out of their old apartment complex into a much safer neighborhood next to a masjid! Abu Jamal was working and doing well, which was great to see. His kids were a little surprised to see us, but excited nonetheless. Abu Jamal was telling us that his kids are in the masjid whether it is time for salah (prayer) or not! His wife informed us that her youngest child prays fajr (the morning prayer) in the masjid everyday before he goes to school! After enjoying some juice with the family and watching the youngest kid break a glass, we said our goodbyes.
Umm Yasir, a widow with a 5-year-old son, was our next stop. They were both happy to see us. Our joyful mood quickly turned into grief as Umm Yasir apologized that she didn’t have anything to offer us. Her food stamps had been cut off, and she didn’t have food in her house. We immediately contacted a volunteer to get her some groceries, alhamdulilah.
Our final stop of the day was Umm Mahmoud, a widow with 3 kids. We hadn’t seen her family for a long time so we spent some time catching up with them. She was so excited to see us, as always. We shared our stories about family, school, and Al Amaanah over some sweet Arabic tea. Her youngest son, age 5, is always entertaining to be around. He was dressed in his Spiderman pajamas, trying to share his experience at the zoo. He speaks better English than his mother and his other two siblings, which they are always joking about! Umm Mahmoud and and her other two children all have very high aspirations. The mother is attending ESL classes at a local community college, the daughter is completing her core requirements for her petroleum engineering degree, and the son is finishing up high school and preparing for college. Masha’Allah they have been a source of inspiration for us and other families. It was getting late so we bade them farewell and began our journey home.
The day had been an emotional roller coaster. As always, on our way home we discussed what lessons we could learn from our visits. Our hearts didn’t feel the same. When you see the pain and suffering of a family with your own eyes, it is not the same as hearing about it. At times, we become oblivious to our surroundings. There are widows who don’t have food to eat while we are feasting on our lavish dinner tables. What makes it worse is that they live no more than 10-15 minutes away from our homes. We need to sacrifice more from our busy schedules to meet with our clients so we can feel what they feel and be thankful to Allah (swt) for what we have.
What reason do we have to complain? We have parents to care for us, a roof over our heads, food on our tables, clothes on our backs, money in our pockets, friends to comfort us, and no fear of being evicted, going hungry or being robbed in our own homes. There are always people who are worse off than we are. We need to see and feel that.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters are suffering mere minutes from us. They need you and me to visit, to sit down and talk, to put a smile on their faces and lighten their day. We need to go out and feel firsthand what they are going through; we need to learn from their amazing patience and wisdom in dealing with what Allah (swt) has given them. They are embodiments of the phrase alhamdulillah `ala kulli haal (praise be to God for every situation).
*The names of the people mentioned in this article have been changed to protect their privacy.