ICNA Relief USA actualizes a core aspect of Islamic work. Born out of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), ICNA Relief is a domestic, faith-based disaster relief and social service organization incorporated in 2005. From its inception, ICNA was deeply rooted in community work, and in an effort to meet the needs of local families, many of whom were immigrants, ICNA began programs to support newly arriving families. By 2005, it had become evident that the needs of the community required an organized, professional approach and thus ICNA Relief was established.
ICNA Relief serves the Muslim community but strives as well to meet the needs of low income and underserved communities throughout the United States, regardless of religion. ICNA Relief has been privileged to serve thousands of people over the years and strives to fulfil the requisite of charity work, based on the Islamic values of compassion and service.
ICNA Relief’s humble beginning began in Jamaica, New York fifty years ago and has now expanded into a national program with 20 field offices throughout the country. ICNA Relief’s mission is to alleviate human suffering by providing caring and compassionate support and assistance to individuals and families suffering from adversity and to survivors of disasters. ICNA Relief strives to build healthy communities by strengthening families and creating life-enhancing opportunities for those in need, while advocating for their basic human needs.
Providing Shelter with Dignity
With this aim, ICNA Relief responded to the need for safe and secure shelter, especially for women and children. In large cities such as New York, there is an affordable housing crisis. In most cities, however, shelters were designed for temporary, emergency situations, but have become overcrowded with homeless individuals, many of whom are suffering from severe mental health issues and/or addiction. These conditions are not suitable places for women and children. ICNA Relief found that homelessness was on the rise within the Muslim community and developed a model for transitional housing to meet the unique needs of Muslim women and children. Many were being victimized within public-run facilities, targeted because they are Muslim. ICNA Relief opened its first transitional housing facility in 2006 and now has expanded to 14 facilities throughout the country, with additional ones planned to open in 2018.
The ICNA Relief shelters protect the dignity of residents while affording them the opportunity to heal and develop their resources within a nurturing environment. Women are provided with one-on-one support while they transition to permanent stable housing. Many of the women who come to ICNA Relief for supportive housing have experienced abuse of one sort or another and are underemployed or have suffered from life adversity of one sort or another. ICNA Relief offers them the opportunity to heal while they work towards obtaining the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency.
Providing Disaster Relief
To further the Islamic principle of helping the disadvantaged in our communities through compassion and care, ICNA Relief USA represents the American Muslim response to disasters. ICNA Relief USA provides support through all phases of a disaster: providing immediate response and recovery efforts as well as survival basics, and then helping the community stabilize and start rebuilding.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina resulted in ICNA Relief becoming a nationally recognized relief organization, acknowledged by agencies such as FEMA and the American Red Cross. Katrina served as a call to action for Muslims in the U.S. Oftentimes we are the first responders in times of disaster, and many times the first Muslims that people in the afflicted area have encountered. To date, we have responded to 49 disasters throughout the country.
Addressing Food Insecurity
Muslim history has a long tradition of advocating for social justice and caring for the rights of our neighbors. A fundamental teaching of Islam asks, “How can you go to sleep at night when your neighbor is hungry”? Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stressed the rights our neighbors have upon us, and by extension, our fellow citizens, and ICNA Relief strives to heed that call.
More than 41 million Americans live in “food insecure” households (according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture) meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. To alleviate the national hunger crisis hitting families across America, ICNA Relief has established its national hunger prevention program to assist individuals and families. ICNA Relief utilizes its full resources to launch effective programs that target impoverished communities, bringing life, nourishment, and hope one meal at a time. ICNA Relief’s public food assistance services also aim to raise community awareness and launch efforts to address this growing epidemic. On average, we feed over a 100,000 people every year across 15 cities.
Providing Counseling Services
In our quest to empower individuals and families in the United States through caring and compassionate services, ICNA Relief recognized that the American Muslim community was not immune to challenging family issues including increasingly high divorces rates, disenfranchised youth, domestic abuse, the psychological and emotional effects of Islamophobia, and mental health concerns.
In an effort to address these issues, ICNA Relief launched Muslim Family Services (MFS) to assist, educate, and support Muslims by providing professional services based on Quranic teachings and sunnah. Our mission is for the community to develop a strong bond of fellowship and mutual support and caring through ICNA Relief’s various social services and community development projects. Educating and supporting families is a huge responsibility, one which ICNA Relief values as one of its greatest obligations.
In fact, ICNA Relief is deeply committed to preserving families and uplifting communities throughout America. The organization is cultivating leaders and providing opportunities for individuals to rise among the ranks of those dedicated to the ICNA mission. ICNA Relief values each individual, providing opportunities for women to feel empowered within the organization and become leaders within their communities. Young people are believed to be the future of the organization and, therefore, ICNA Relief fosters leadership skills and values among the youth. The way forward, after 50 years of service, is through the relationships born out of the work to provide transformational change within our communities, and to offer a positive and contributing embodiment of Islam in America.
Malika MacDonald-Rushdan is the Director of ICNA Relief MA Field Office and the National Director of ICNA Relief USA’s Transitional Housing Network