On a normal day in Houston, a mother and her son drove up to the local masjid for what seemed to be a typical visit. As they always do, they entered through separate entrances for men and women. As time passed by and the son did not reappear, the mother grew more and more anxious. She decided to get up and search for her son on her own, but could not find him. She returned to the sisters’ side crying, frightened and unaware of what to do. Some concerned sisters in the masullah came to her and asked her why she was shedding such painful tears. The mother then exposed the reality of the situation: she did not get along well with her daughter-in-law and as a result, her son had abandoned her at the masjid, hoping to never see her again. A sister in the masjid could not help but want to offer her aid, despite lacking money herself. The sister accepted the mother into her home and struggled to keep her comfortable. Unfortunately, it came to a point where she could no longer do it. Alhumdulillah (praise be to Allah) that is when the community stepped in and ideas began to brew in the mind of the youth. From this event and other similar events came inspiration for our newest organization in Houston: The WALI Foundation.
WALI stands for “Women’s Assistance and Learning Initiative” but their acronym and shield logo speaks volumes beyond the obvious. The word ولي (wali) means caretaker; in this context the word refers to a guardian that is appointed to take care of a woman. Islamically, a woman has been appointed a guardian to watch over her and to be her shield whenever she is need of protection. But what about those people who don’t have that shield or have been neglected by their shields? In Houston, that’s where the WALI foundation comes in.
Cofounders Mariam Hussain and Mohammed Obaid Shariff have a vision of dignified assistance. Serving as a hub to the services that are scattered around the community, WALI is on a mission to empower Muslim women who have been victims of domestic abuse, abandonment or who were divorced or widowed. The organization assists and educates them by providing access to free temporary housing, healthcare, legal services, support services, educational programs, job search assistance, marriage services and more, until they are self-sufficient – all while still maintaining their honor and reputation. Since Shariff has three sisters himself, he knows the importance of helping a Muslim sister while protecting her honor and dignity. Instead of simply working on making sure his sisters were taken care of, he went ahead to make sure any sisters in Houston that need the help are also under care, just as we were taught by our Prophet ﷺ : “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
Initially there was some criticism, as members of the community were certain that there was no need for such an organization – all the help needed was already available. “We’re not recreating the wheel” Shariff said with certainty. “We are using the resources that are available and are serving as a ‘go to’ point for these women.” Rather than having a woman go and search for the different solutions to her problems while making the entire community aware of her situation, WALI will take care of getting in touch with the people who will get the job done right.
Although it is still a work in progress, WALI already has a base set with healthcare opportunities, financial advising, and counseling. For those sad situations in life when a woman has been deprived of a sufficient guardian, finally there is an organization to be the wali they lack.