Mus­lims as­sem­ble to do good in Bal­ti­more

Es­ti­mated 20,000 at­tend third an­nual con­fer­ence to help in times of need

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Cather­ine Rentz

An es­ti­mated 20,000 Mus­lims from across the coun­try are in down­town Bal­ti­more over the Easter hol­i­day week­end for the Is­lamic Cir­cle of North Amer­ica’s an­nual Con­fer­ence for Peace.

It is the 42nd an­nual con­ven­tion for the group and the third straight year it has been held at the Bal­ti­more Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

“We’re bring­ing like-minded peo­ple to­gether to cel­e­brate our re­li­gion and do good,” said Haris Qudsi, out­reach co­or­di­na­tor for ICNA Re­lief, a char­i­ta­ble non­profit arm of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Qudsi said Bal­ti­more is an ideal lo­ca­tion, given the ac­tive Mus­lim com­mu­nity in the D.C.-Mary­land-Vir­ginia re­gion and the city’s easy ac­ces­si­bil­ity from other states.

The group first held its con­ven­tion in Bal­ti­more in 2015 just af­ter the un­rest fol­low­ing the death of Fred­die Gray, the 25-year-old who suf­fered fa­tal in­juries while in po­lice cus­tody. In­spired by the protests, Qudsi said, the group cre­ated hun­dreds of “bless­ing bags” of ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties, in­clud­ing tooth­brushes and soap, to give out in the com­mu­nity.

They group has re­peated the ef­fort each year since then. This year, it handed out more than 750 bless­ing bags to the home­less and dis­trib­uted 1,000 hot meals of chicken, rice and veg­eta­bles in co­or­di­na­tion with the Is­lamic So­ci­ety of Bal­ti­more and sev­eral in­ter­faith groups.

“We’re about peo­ple com­ing to­gether to help in times of need,” he said.

The open­ing mes­sage from the ICNA pres­i­dent, Javaid Sid­diqi, read: “This year we are meet­ing in the midst of new po­lit­i­cal cli­mate that has in­vig­o­rated re­newed in­ter­est of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial ac­tivism within the Amer­i­can Mus­lim com­mu­nity.”

Sev­eral con­ven­tion ses­sions, in­clud­ing “Com­bat­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia,” “Assert­ing Your Rights Un­der Trump Pres­i­dency” and “Work­ing through Chal­leng­ing Times,” ad­dress con­cern spread­ing through the com­mu­nity given a spike in hate crimes against Mus­lims. One ses­sions, called “#Wel­comeRefugees,” in­cluded more than a dozen re­cently ar­rived refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Most said they had un­der­stood from the United Na­tions that they would have one year of full as­sis­tance dur­ing which they could learn the lan­guage and get sit­u­ated. But family af­ter family spoke of their sur­prise when they found they would just have one month of full re­sources and then were told they needed to get a job and sur­vive largely on their own dur­ing that sec­ond month and there­after.

Hanaan Is­mail, sin­gle mother to a 17-month-old girl, is a refugee from Iraq who at­tended the ses­sion. She said she was told she needed to have a job af­ter one month, though she had yet to learn English or find af­ford­able hous­ing or day care. Is­mail, 31, lives in Bal­ti­more in an apart­ment that costs $925 per month, which she said was too ex­pen­sive for her. She said re­li­gious groups have helped to fill the gap, but she is look­ing for more af­ford­able hous­ing and more time to get on her feet.

Sa­mar Daas, 43, from Syria said he has re­sorted to look­ing in the garbage for fur­ni­ture and other ne­ces­si­ties for his family. He spent the one-time $1,850 stipend he and his wife re­ceived on rent. Daas, like other refugee fam­i­lies, col­lects food stamps, but said the amount has de­creased over time.

Hala Hal­abi, di­rec­tor of refugee fa­cil­i­ta­tion for ICNA Re­lief, said she hopes the con­fer­ence will help fa­cil­i­tate aid for many of the refugees.

The con­fer­ence con­tin­ues through to­day.

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Hala Hal­abi, left, di­rec­tor of refugee fa­cil­i­ta­tion at ICNA Re­lief Dal­las, trans­lates for, right, Han­nan Is­mail, 31, a Syr­ian refugee and sin­gle mother.

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