Helping Homeless Muslim Women: A Safe Place to Go
“They sleep in mosques. Or on the streets. Or in Christian-oriented shelters that might hold prayer meetings or services at odds with their own religious beliefs. For Muslim women without a place to live, particularly those who have been battered or are immigrants, being homeless can test their faith at the time they need it most.”
So begins the Washington Post December 29th article, “Muslim Women Who Become Homeless Have Limited Options”. It describes the difficulties Muslim women face in the shelter system and the scarcity of Muslim-sponsored shelters.
Muslim women’s presence in the system reveals that Muslims are prone to the same social problems that plague non-Muslims in the United States. This problem points to the need for Muslims to move quickly along the path with other faith-based organizations and activists to increase the number of Islamic social service agencies. The deeper need is to reduce and prevent the causes of homelessness.
Michelle Al-Nasr, in “The Dilemma of Homeless Muslim Women and Children in the USA” (www.crescentlife.com), quotes Jamilah Ibrahim, dorm mother for the now-closed Housing Outreach for Muslim Sisters (H.O.M.S.) shelter in Arlington, Texas, who listed the most common causes for homelessness among Muslim women:
- Women converts to Islam rejected by their non-Muslim families when they embrace Islam with no family or friend to turn to when in need;
- Women who married men from overseas and are abandoned after the man has received his green card, even though they are practicing Muslimahs;
- Single and older women who live from paycheck to paycheck, become ill and are unable to pay their rent and living expenses;
- Women from overseas who do not speak English, have no job skills and are forced to assume the role of household provider;
- Women who are subject to severe physical abuse.
Abdus-Salaam Musa, Director of ICNA Relief USA’s United Muslim Movement Against Homelessness (UMMAH) and the Muslim Women’s Help Network (MWHN) in New York City, adds to this list:
- Immigrant Muslim women thrown out of their homes by their husbands or by their adult children who refuse to support them;
- Women who suffer from mental illness who are not getting needed treatment.
One cause—domestic violence—is gaining more media and community attention. The January 6th New York Times article, “Abused Muslim Women in U.S. Gain Advocates,” reports on the (mainly) women advocates seeking both justice and accommodations for Muslim women victims of domestic violence.
The Northern Virginia-Washington, D.C. area is one of a growing number of locations where Muslim men and women are joining forces to address spousal abuse. Maha Alkhateeb of The Peaceful Families Project, Imam Muhammad Magid of ADAMS, and Imam Johari Abdul-Malik of Dar Al Hijrah are working to decrease incidents of domestic violence. MANA’s Imam Johari has organized an initiative, Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence, and co-edited the book, “What Islam Says About Domestic Violence.”
While Muslim organizations work to establish the institutions, personnel and know-how to access and maintain government and foundation support, the Muslim community is, and will continue to be, called on for funding.
It was through aggressive fundraising and private donations among the ummah that ICNA and the Muslim Women’s Help Network (MWHN) in New York City were able to purchase the building that shelters Muslim women in need of temporary housing. Sleeping accommodations for 12 women, breakfast and dinner, case management, career exploration and educational support, housing search assistance, advocacy, and access to services such as public assistance, health care, and legal and religious needs are provided.
It is costly to run even this small program. With a staff of three (a case manager, a housemother who stays overnight, and on-site security), transportation stipends and groceries for the women, office administration, and facility costs, the annual bill is $230,000. Building maintenance alone costs almost $70,000 per year, $35,000 of which is for property and liability insurance. (The facility is currently closed for much-needed renovations.)
Asma Hanif, Executive Director of Muslimat Al Nisaa of Health, Shelter & Social Services, Inc., is struggling with high costs and low funding in Baltimore, Maryland. In a recent email appeal for the Muslim Women and Children’s Shelter, she writes: “We depend upon the generosity of community benefactors to support our programs.” Shelters that service both women and children require even more services than single women’s housing, and the costs for insurance are much higher.
Across the country the need is greater than the available facilities. The Hamdard Center in Chicago could use more than its current 11 beds. Maryam Gilani, the director of its domestic violence program, said the Center turned away 647 women and children in 2007, with pleas for assistance from Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Louisiana.
MANA’s SHARE Center concept can help address the urgent issue of Muslim women’s homelessness. Its goal is to establish 15 Centers in 2008. As a social service and advocacy institution, a SHARE (Services for Human Advancement and Resource Enhancement) Center is designed to serve the physical and spiritual (psychological) needs of its Muslim community and the local neighborhood. (See SHARE Center proposal)
The SHARE Center functions as a referral agency and a provider of direct services, one of which is a women’s shelter. In addressing some of the causes of Muslim women’s homelessness, a Center would either refer individuals for marital and abuse counseling and/or provide the services through its own women’s shelters.
In preventing the spousal abuse that leads to homelessness, MANA’s Healthy Marriage Initiative, operating under the SHARE Center, will focus on pre-marital and marital counseling and establish guidelines for spousal abuse management. (See Healthy Marriage Initiative: An Overview)
The Prophet (saws) enjoined Muslims to want for one’s brother and sister what we want for ourselves. A “safe place to go” is what each of us would want when faced with homelessness. May Allah give us the will and sabrun jamil (wonderful patience) to build and support the institutions that will be there for all of us when we are in need.