Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Service to the Community part 1

A couple of weeks ago as I was leaving the local masjid, an older man approached me for a few minutes of my time. He was hunched over, holding up his weight through the use of a cane. His skin and the gray hairs in his beard were dry as if he had come through the desert and eyes so tired they spoke of a fatigue weary from some such travel. He asked, "Is there a place that my wife and I can rest?" Could they spend the night at the masjid, was there an external housing unit or complex? Whats the deal with zakat in cases like this? I hesitated to answer, because I didn't know.

So I grabbed my friend and we sat with the man over lunch as he told us his life story. He told us how he and his wife had come here from Washington D.C., how he had been in a car accident where his car was totaled (hence the cane) and all of his money went off with the car to the impound. He told us how he and his wife have been staying in a really cheap motel/temporary housing complex in Oakland and just need some time to recuperate and some money to get readjusted. He also told us that he had approached the people in charge of masjid facilities and finances, the executive board, and they declined assistance.

I asked politely if I could talk to my friend in private. He agreed. "You know, I believe him and his story. But if the masjid cant help him, what are we going to do? What can we do?"

I have yet to attend the masjid executive board meeting, but I can understand and sympathize with the masjid because of course their bookkeeping and accounting records must be immaculate for their own integrity's sake (tax purposes and what not). It would be difficult to provide charity on a one-on-one basis; they cannot give zakat collected money to just anyone apparently (guilt by association?? speculative but possible). The man told us that they need to see a California ID to start off. But I will investigate further.

As a temporary solution, we pooled some money together and gave it to the man. But I know he is not the only case; we just happened to be there when he was.

Sometimes, this all doesn't make sense to me. We can hold events and raise money for people on the other side of the world, but we can't even help the people down the street in our own communities? Or why cant we just give ans support; our intention is to do so to help the man and his wife for the sake of God, whoever he is? Isn't that part of faith? Where are our community service centers? All I am seeing lately are buildings to pray in and hold events for.

I know this is a complex issue that requires some kind of an infrastructure/process/framework. So I open it up to the other writers and readers. Have you ever come across an instance like this in your community? How do your community leaders handle it? What services do they/can they provide? What do you think we could do on an individual level, and possibly a community-wide level? To be continued....


Affad Shaikh said...

Salaam Naveed.

I think Muslims in the US came and they kept their suitcases under their bed because they thought they would be taking them back home soon.

However, soon the college clubs they established made them realize that they needed the clubs post-graduation and so came the ISNA's, ICNA's and MAYA and MAS along with the 3-4k masjids.

Now, we are in a whole new dimension. Imagine, for example, CAIR, 13 years ago it was an idea and it came into being and existed in four or five chapters until after 9/11. Thats when we got to 32 chapters all of a sudden across the country, because the community realized that to be part of American society you had to fight for your civil rights, and so CAIR is flourishing with Allah's help but also with the grass root community leadership and support.

These non-mosque institutions are the next wave of development for the Muslim community, and for this it will bring together the indigenious Muslim population as well as the immigrant population through us- the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or those who grew up soley in the US generation.

I see it. There are some incredible people doing incredible things! But the organizations are sprouting too. For example here in Southern California we have ACCESS. Which is a wonder social service provider for all people- arab, muslim, non-muslim- they provide housing assistance, training, english, job placement, domestic violence assistance, child care issues, health, translation, small immigration work the list goes on!

There are refugee organization being set up to help Muslim refugee's cope with issues, in partnership with some great organizations with Catholic charities, the Mormon church, government agencies.

But all this requires people in our generation to step up to the plate and get educated and active in these causes.

We had the old paradigm where the doctors signed the checks to the masjids, the non-doctors did the work and organizing, the imam did minimal counseling, broken English sermons and the people thought that was it. This paradigm has changed, now we are here and here to stay with no other place to go. I can say with certainty that my children will be buried here in US soil as will I and this is my home and the problems faced by everyday Americans are the problems faced by the American Muslim community.

Kudoos to you and your buddies for your "random act of kindness" may Allah reward you in this world and here after, but inshallah (God Willing) it is time for us to develop holistic and homegrown solutions to address these issues.

Galib said...

Assalaamu alaikum
You have a legitimate concern. however, a brother fitting your description was caught stealing money from a donation box from the masjid. Was drunk at another instance (somewhere in the streets).
A lot of times, situations are sad but most of the time, they are scams. I got burnt by an incident like such two and a half years ago. I think emotions will not get us much but trouble. The government is sending agents to our masjids with several trick under their sleeves to trap some innocent brother, and make a terrorist out of him.
It seems like the masjid has a good system setup for helping people.( I had some issues with a member because of not giving help to an individual several years ago). Unfortunately one bad apple messes with the taste buds so bad that it is hard to bite into the next good apple.
We must have a setup outside the masjid environment that will be able to handle such cases. We have to protect our masjid too. Affad is right.