Texas Muslims are turning mosques into shelters to help Harvey victims

Texas Muslims are turning mosques into shelters to help Harvey victims
The Houston Fire Department puts a life preserver on Damouri Fair, 2, before placing her on a boat as they rescue stranded residents from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Monday, Aug. 28.
Source: Gerald Herbert/AP
The Houston Fire Department puts a life preserver on Damouri Fair, 2, before placing her on a boat as they rescue stranded residents from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Monday, Aug. 28.
Source: Gerald Herbert/AP

As devastating flooding from Harvey continues around the Houston area on Tuesday, the city’s Muslim community is stepping up: turning mosques into 24-hour shelters and bringing in diapers, water and food from their own homes.

M.J. Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston — an organization that represents 21 Islamic centers in the area — said in a phone call on Tuesday that four of ISGH’s member mosques are now open as round-the-clock shelters.

A volunteer stands with donations for Harvey victims at an ISGH member mosque.
Source: M.J. Khan/ISGH

“This is an obligation, a religious obligation to help others,” Khan said. “When you give, you don’t give only to your own family. … You give to anybody who needs help.”

Khan explained that with Harvey bearing down on Friday, the ISGH had the idea to offer mosques as shelters to anyone who needed refuge. The problem, he explained, was that many of the roads weren’t passable.

Residents evacuating their homes near the Addicks Reservoir as floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey rose Tuesday, Aug. 29, in Houston.
Source: David J. Phillip/AP

Luckily, Khan said, “we have a pretty good networking and communication system.” With just a few phone calls, volunteers began showing up to local mosques with bottled water, sleeping bags and supplies.

As of Tuesday, Khan said, four mosques were operating as fully equipped shelters, staffed and stocked by local volunteers. In fact, there were so many volunteers from Houston’s Muslim community that Khan began sending them to help in city shelters and at Houston’s convention center.

Houstonians of all stripes have come to stay in the mosques, Khan said: “mostly families,” some with young children or elderly relatives. In one of the mosques, classrooms that are normally part of a school were turned into private rooms for families.

People walk to a Harris County Sheriff air boat while escaping a flooded neighborhood during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on Aug. 29 in Houston.
Source: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

In addition to the immediate relief that the shelters are providing, Khan said aid in the form of money and supplies has been coming in from Islamic organizations all over the U.S.

“We have truckloads of supplies coming,” Khan said. He added that the ISGH had put together a list of 50 doctors from the Muslim community who were willing to be on call and offered it to the city of Houston.

With even more Harvey-related flooding expected in the Houston area over the coming hours and days, Khan had a message for the rest of the country: “We appreciate your sentiment and goodwill, and especially your prayers.”

And for anyone in Houston who might be in need of help? “We have mosques all over the greater Houston area,” he said. “If you have no place to go, go to your neighborhood mosque.”