“The inspirational women dedicated to charity”

Haute Hijab blog editor Dilshad D. Ali shares with us some of the inspiring stories they found from their recent  ‘Muslim Women Working in Charity’ series.

The concept of charity – charitable giving, helping those in need, sharing of wealth, supporting orphans, acts of charity and everything that goes along with it – is emphasised numerous times in the Quran and well embedded in our life as Muslims.

Whether it’s through gathering monetary donations, helming a charitable organisation or simply smiling upon someone who comes across your path, engaging in charitable work is indeed one of the most rewarding things we can do.

As we approach Ramadan, a time when engaging in acts of charity increases, our  thoughts turn to reflections on gratitude and how we can give back to others.

As the blog and content editor at Haute Hijab, one of the best parts of my job is sharing the stories of Muslim women doing all sorts of meaningful, challenging and beautiful things in the world. And so last November, I asked my writing team to help produce a series focused on Muslim Women Working in Charity.

By highlighting different Muslim women around the United States working in various charitable endeavours and exploring other themes and topics around volunteering, we hoped to inspire others to learn from their experiences, dig deep and give back. Here are six extraordinary women we featured and some lessons we learned from their hard work.

Somayyah Gharian and Saman Quraeshi, Ikram Foundation

Left to right: Somayyah Gharian and Saman Quraeshi

The Ikram Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to enhancing the dignity of divorced and widowed women by empowering these women with education.

“With a focus on providing scholarships and grants to an oft-forgotten Muslim women demographic who are stigmatised and at a high risk for poverty, Ikram’s work in the Muslim community is incredibly transformative,” Haute Hijab’s Hakeemah Cummings wrote recently.

Cummings first met Executive Director Somayyah Gharian and Program Director Saman Quraeshi when she worked with them on the #FundHerFuture campaign last October for domestic violence awareness month. Quraeshi came to Ikram as a newly divorced single mother, whose educational journey was helped by the foundation.

These two women are committed to empowering women and believe future generations should invest in helping women in need.

Nadia Montalvo, Global Charity Teams

Nadia Montalvo serves as the director for Global Charity Teams, a nonprofit organisation founded in 2017 by her father, Albert Montalvo, in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico, which is where the Montalvo family is from.

Global Charity Teams provide basic essentials to communities in need, focusing on providing clean water, nutrition and personal and medical care products locally and internationally. The organisation’s first fundraiser was collecting $1,000 to rebuild homes in Puerto Rico. In her interview with HH’s Nargis Rahman, Montalvo says she draws on her experience of being different, of being an outsider in her Muslim community, to help others who come to Global Charity Teams because “they don’t want people from a similar background or culture to know they need help.” Sometimes being an outsider is her biggest asset, Montalvo says.

Asma Hanif, Muslimat Al-Nisaa

What struck me most in our profile piece on Asma Hanif (written by HH’s Layla Abdullah-Poulos) was how women like Hanif often carry our Muslim communities on their backs. And although she has experienced immense rewards in her decades of giving back, it’s also been extremely hard.

Hanif is the founder of the Muslimat Al-Nisaa, a nonprofit that she launched in 1987 when she opened the Healthy Solutions Holistic Health Center clinic in Maryland, U.S., for Muslim women. In 2007, she opened the first Muslimat Al-Nisaa HOME Center, also in Maryland, to battle homelessness in Muslim communities.

While giving back to those in need has been her life’s work, Hanif also spoke passionately about the difficulties of burnout, saying “[Those who need help] don’t care what my problems are; I am their solution. And that’s what overwhelms me. I hear their sadness and sorrows, and there is nothing more difficult. …Something I’m never asked [about] is how lonely I am without someone to hold and remind me that I am not just a servant of Allah (swt), but also a woman in need of being loved.”

Amarra Ghani, Welcome Home

HH’s Danah Shuli spoke with Amarra Ghani, who began her charity work in North Carolina by gathering winter clothes for Syrian refugees in 2017. That work has grown into an organisation, Welcome Home, which helps refugees get back on their feet and become more self-sufficient.

Amarra’s lesson for others is “If you’re struggling with anything in your life, do something for others.” It was this philosophy that led her to create a WhatsApp group called “Welcome Home” to organise fundraisers, clothing drives and gather other donations for refugees, which later became an organisation dedicated to helping refugees become self-sufficient.

She encourages everyone to find some way in which they can give back: “You have to take the first step. You won’t know what you’re missing out on until you throw yourself in that mix. If you make the time to invest in someone else’s lives, you don’t know the impact you have until you do it with consistency, when you do something so often that it becomes second nature. We know this to be true in Islam.”

Emina Ferizovic, J&E Community Relief

In 1996 Emina Ferizovic and her family moved from Bosnia to Hamtramck, Michigan as refugees, depending on the kindness of strangers to build a new life. In an interview with HH’s Rahman, Ferizovic says she was humbled by her experiences, which shaped her ability to empathise with those who experience similar journeys as refugees resettling in this country.

“I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve been in a place where I had everything in life, and then we had nothing and had to start from zero. And if it wasn’t for certain services and help that we received at that time when we didn’t have anything – when we were just newcomers – I don’t know where we would be today,” she says. Experiences like this inspired Emina to give back. That opportunity came in August 2018, when she quit her job and opened the Hamtramck-based nonprofit J&E Community Relief, a food pantry and community centre. The nonprofit takes on projects both locally and abroad, running entirely on volunteers and donations.

Her own introduction as a refugee to the Hamtramck community was supported by the community, which is why doing this work is so important to her. “This organisation is here for the community. And it’s basically run by the community. Without the people here, we couldn’t do anything,” she says.

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