Post Sandy, Muslims Seen ‘Through a Different Lens’

Dr. Batool Hussaini meets with a patient at the ICNA Relief drop-in center on Neptune Avenue in Brighton Beach. (Photo by Gabrielle Alfiero)

Relief volunteers gut a home that was flooded during Hurricane Sandy in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn. (Photo by Gabrielle Alfiero)

Abdulrauf Khan, 40, warns a group of volunteers to avoid stepping on errant nails in the kitchen of a small home on Brighton 8 Street in Brighton Beach. He’s surrounded by ripped up floorboards and industrial trash bags full of debris. His black felt hat is speckled with white dust.

During Hurricane Sandy, the basement and first floor of this home filled with water. Now the house is being gutted while the residents, a family of five, are in a shelter.

Khan is the assistant director of disaster relief for the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA, a nonprofit relief and social services organization with headquarters in Jamaica, Queens. The responsibility to help those in need is informed by the Islamic faith, Khan says.

According to ICNA, approximately 300,000 of those affected by Hurricane Sandy are Muslims, but Khan stresses that anyone in need can benefit from ICNA Relief efforts.

“This is part of our religion,” Khan says. “When you help, it is regardless of any ethnicity, any race, any religion. That’s our mission.”

Mucahit Bilici, assistant professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says the Muslim community’s call to service comes from humanitarian as well as religious concerns.

“Muslims are so misrepresented in popular culture that it becomes incumbent upon them to prove that they care, that they are human beings,” Bilici says.

ICNA Relief set up a drop-in station in front of Masjid Omar mosque on Neptune Avenue. Women in hijabs wait in line behind young people in sweatpants and jeans to receive blankets and portable heaters, or to see Dr. Batool Hussaini, who takes vitals and provides over-the-counter medication. Volunteers translate FEMA applications into Urdu and Punjabi.

Rafael Brenes, 51, is waiting for a heater for his son’s room. His nearby home is still without heat.

“Night times get real cold,” Brenes says. “My son has to sleep with all his clothes on.”

Signs on the door of Masjid Omar mosque on Neptune Avenue in Brighton Beach ask those affected by Hurricane Sandy to seek assistance. (Photo by Gabrielle Alfiero)

The Arab American Association of New York, a nonprofit social service and advocacy group in Bay Ridge, has also been active in hurricane relief. Linda Sarsour, 32, executive director of AAANY, says the organization has received food and clothing donations and delivered hot meals.

Sarsour says her faith urges her to serve those in need, but service also provides an opportunity to engage with people who know little about Islam, a concept that Muslims call Dawah.

“This is our way of not necessarily telling people to become Muslim, but for people to interact with Islamic faith from a place of service,” Sarsour says.

Days after Hurricane Sandy left more than 8 million people without power, AAANY staff knocked on doors to deliver pizza in the Midland Beach neighborhood in Staten Island.

At one apartment, an older woman cracked open her door to find Sarsour standing on the other side, wearing a blue hijab and holding a pizza delivery box. Sarsour asked if she was hungry, and the woman opened the door a little wider.

The woman immediately said, “‘I didn’t know. I should have asked more questions.’”

It took Sarsour a minute to understand what the woman meant.  Two years earlier, a Muslim group sought to open a mosque in the same neighborhood. Some residents vehemently opposed the mosque, including the woman to whom Sarsour was offering a pizza.

“This was her first opportunity to see people like me through a different lens,” Sarsour says. “We were seen as people coming to provide help. We were seen as New Yorkers.”



  1. david williams says:

    I always say that people are people, and I believe they are all basically good. We should judge people by their actions, not their labels.
    It’s a shame muslims feel they must prove they are like “us”.

    • Gary Dargan says:

      David they are not doing it to prove they are people like you. They are doing it because that is what their religion expects them to do.

      • I believe David meant that society has conditioned us to believe Muslims to be outsiders, to be ‘extremists’ as mainstream media always points out. And for this reason, Muslims as a whole feel they have to do more than usual to prove that they are not what Americans assume them to be. Yes social service is part of the religion, but I feel they have no desire for making their social contributions public unless it will perhaps change the minds of those who ridicule them. It’s sad but true, that in today’s society Muslims have to somehow ‘prove’ they’re Americans, or good human beings, in some way…only because of the stigma Americans themselves put on them.

  2. Alhumdulillah! (Praise God!, in Arabic) ICNA Relief USA has responded to 19 disasters in 15 states, over the last 18 months. This is one way that we are able to share our compassion (as instructed by Jesus PBUH), while we practice the tenants of our religion, Islam.

    “It is not righteousness that ye turn your faces toward East or West; but it is righteousness to believe in Allah (Arabic work for God; the same Creator as mentioned in Genesis) and the Last Day, and the Angels, and the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer and practice regular charity; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth, the Allah (God) -fearing.” Quran, Chapter 2: Al-Baqara, Verse 177

    Let us continue to communicate and to help each other. In this way we become educated. Education overcomes ignorance. Ignorance breeds fear. Fear breeds violence. End the violence.

  3. Pingback: With Sandy, Muslims Seen ‘Through a Different Lens’ « Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)

  4. Muslims for Humanity, this is the correct lens to see them.
    Thank You very much Gabrielle, nice article.

  5. ICNA Relief is also doing some work with other faith based organizations In Atlantic City, NJ. it is great to see someone is actually covering these stories. Thank you!

  6. Mrs. Siddiqi says:

    Thanks Gary. That is the truth:

    “Gary Dargan says:
    December 5, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    David they are not doing it to prove they are people like you. They are doing it because that is what their religion expects them to do.”

  7. Gabriel, a wonderful article indeed. Thank you for shedding light on the work that Muslims do on a daily basis, and showing the acts of true, real Muslims.

  8. Wish to be there to help the needy.

    May Allah guide us all
    to recognise and eliminate misconceptions about islam and
    to understand and communicate each other better and
    to fight against ignorance together.

    Hello ,Salam, سلام ,Shalom from Turkiye.
    “We are the children of Adam. “

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