by Wasan Abu-Baker
A few days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, my husband left to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. As the Hurricane approached and in the days before it, my phone was ringing like crazy with weather warnings and cautions to leave South Padre Island. With my experience from growing up in a war zone, I quickly began to think about the safety of my children, and my husband and I thought it would be best for us to leave the island for safety.
It had only been a few weeks since we moved from Fresno, California, to Corpus Christi, Texas, and we had no idea how to prepare for a hurricane and we didn’t have many friends to help us figure things out. I sent the kids to school that morning and went home to pack our most essential needs. We were lucky enough that a friend of my husband’s from work was in contact with us to help us figure out where to go. So we packed the car, picked up the kids in the afternoon, and left Corpus Christi for Dallas following each other on the road.
We knew that Houston, and maybe San Antonio, would get effected by the storm so we had decided to go as far away from the storm as possible. The road to Dallas was crowded, people were trying to evacuate at the same time, and there were many car accidents. We drove ten hours until we reached our hotel in Dallas. We were exhausted and afraid not knowing how bad the storm would be.
Each day we woke up watching the news, and each day we watched as more people escaping the storm came to the hotel. We met many evacuees coming from Houston also not knowing how bad the storm would be but fearing the worst. Hurricane Harvey hit the Padre Island, Port Aransas, and many more familiar areas leaving damaged houses, businesses, churches, museums, and schools. We kept hearing that the hurricane wasn’t over and that it would do a lot more damage, so we were not sure whether to go back or when to go back.
After a few days in the hotel, we decided to go back to Corpus Christi just days before our Eid Al-Adha holiday. We arrived in Corpus Christi late at night, and although we tried to make a reservation at a hotel because it was dark and the hotel had lost power, we weren’t able to find it. So we had no choice but to go back to our rental on Padre Island not knowing what we would find. When we arrived, it was windy and scary. It felt like we were the only people on the island and probably were. We were relieved to find that we still had power and no flooding had occurred. There was sand everywhere around the house, but everything was still dry. The kids went to sleep from exhaustion, but I couldn’t sleep hearing the wind outside and all the sirens in the distance, it was not a good homecoming.
The next morning we went to the grocery store and saw that the shelves were almost completely empty. We did have some contacts in Corpus Christi, some friends we had met through an interfaith group who invited us to dinner at their house. This made things a little more normal, and we greatly appreciated it. I was grateful for those who helped us find safety and made us feel welcome in a new place. I felt that God always brings good people along to help me and my family whenever we are in need.
I felt weak from this disaster which is something I am not used to. I am usually the one helping those in need especially with my work in California with the refugee families, helping them find homes and the necessities of life. This time, it was my family that needed shelter and a welcoming home. At the end of the week, we went to the mosque and celebrated Eid Al-Adha with the other Muslims in the city, and we felt the sadness there. The Imam was encouraging others to empower each other and help others overcome this disaster and to be patient in the face of this challenge. We collected donations and through this I was able to regain my strength, partnering with others in the Muslim community of Corpus Christi to help those less fortunate.
Through this I also met many more new friends and families who helped me and my kids overcome our fear and difficulty during this time. I continued to look for other opportunities to work with other interfaith leaders to help the Corpus Christi community and I found many. Many faith leaders combined their efforts to do fundraisers and open prayers for the victims of the hurricane. These partnerships between different Faiths helps find ways to work together to serve people. The nonprofit organizations, the governmental organizations, and the faith-based organizations all want to help. The week after the hurricane I visited Port Aransas and other cities, and I saw the massive damage which broke my heart. The cities were severely damaged.
We use terms that label people: refugees, evacuees, and immigrants, and what is common between them is that they have all lost safety and security. Hurricane Harvey brought back memories from the past and also made me reflect on the world around us where people are being killed, injured, and being forced to flee their homes because of terrifying conflicts or natural disasters. Oppression, persecution, and financial crises are forcing people to seek safety and protection which is not entirely different from what we saw with Hurricane Harvey.
According to the United Nations, 125 million people around the world have had their lives devastated by conflict or disaster, and countless families are being pushed deeper into poverty every day. Through governments, aid agencies, and the UN, the world provides humanitarian aid to millions of people behind the scenes. Countless heroes are stepping forward with their leadership skills to help.
I believe as an American Muslim who lives in the United States, my faith and upbringing gives me a sense of responsibility to care about others and comfort their pain and sadness. God gives me the strength to be there for others and give our care to others. If our hearts are not strong in belief, then we would not have the will to be firm when this test of being there for those in greatest need arrives. This belief also empowers me to inspire people to always try and do good for humanity by serving those in need. We all have to pass on this inspiration to each other no matter which faith we have, we serve all humans in need and strive to do good in this life for others.
In Islam, helping others is a core principle where we are encouraged to contribute positively to society. Our holy book, the Quran, and our prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) sayings highlight how helping human beings is a fundamental aspect of the faith and is a form of worshiping God. No matter how we worship, all religions aim to please God, be good human beings, build society, and play a positive role on earth.
When I was a child in Palestine, we learned about all religions in school and that those religions agreed that every human regardless their faith had a natural right to food, clothing, and shelter. In the early history of Islam, when many Muslims escaped Mecca (Muhajirin) because they were being tortured because of their faith, the Muslims of Madinah (Al Ansar) supported them, brought them into their homes, and cared for them as if they were family. Prophet Muhammad said that, “The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” We need to realize that our brothers and sisters are suffering and they need us just as we need them, we should feel pain and anguish when we hear stories of their suffering, and this should motivate us to perform constructive action in the form of charity donated through trustworthy and authentic relief organizations.
Helping others is connected to a believer’s worship of God, and all the holy books ask their believers to help others. There is a clear reward for a person who aids another, both in this world and the thereafter. This is important for Muslims because we believe that each person will face God on the Day of Judgment and be asked about all their deeds, and helping others is not optional, but a religious duty. Faith groups have a very important role to play in strengthening resilience and reinforcing the unity of the community. Faith is important because individuals who hold these beliefs can recover from or manage the crises quite well. Interviews with survivors of hurricanes and tsunami reveal that belief in God and prayer remains important in helping many people to cope with disaster.
In many disaster areas in the world the population goes without drinking water, power, food, and communication for weeks. These disasters deserve more coverage in the news and a better coordinated response. As I drove around Rockport, Port Aransas, and other surrounding areas a couple days after Harvey, what came to mind was the destruction I witnessed when I was a child living in a war zone. Having a community to help me and my family overcome the difficulty was very important which is why I feel strongly that if we are able, we must be there for those in need.
Check out more immigrant and refugee stories in KRL’s Tales of Diversity category.