Shazia Ashraf watched from a boat as her mattress floated in six feet of water in her Houston home. Underneath the murky depths she could see her washer and dryer. Her fridge had somehow migrated to the living room.
As she pulled away from her flooded home, grateful that she had managed to save her kittens, her immediate thoughts turned to helping others. It was instinct. In the days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, displacing tens of thousands of people, hundreds of Muslims like Ashraf put aside their own suffering to come to the aid of those in need.
For Ashraf, who is the chairwoman of a committee for the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, that involved helping turn at least five area mosques into shelters. As the storm hit and the flooding ensued, the mosques have been providing cots and food to displaced people who may have otherwise never stepped foot inside.
“That’s the beautiful thing to see,” Ashraf told HuffPost. “A lot of people in [the group’s] leadership ― myself included ― have homes completely flooded but are still trying to organize to help the community. Some of our volunteers still set up shop on the second story of their flooded house.”
Ashraf said the mosques serving as shelters are “completely stocked with supplies” including coffee, “a hug, a smile ― anything that can help.”
ISGH has opened its doors as others have been criticized for not doing the same. Evangelical pastor Joel Osteen ― the head of a megachurch in Lakewood, Texas ― was harshly condemned for closing his church as the disaster first struck. He later opened the church as a shelter after facing backlash online.
“If people were here, they’d realize there were safety issues,” Osteen said Wednesday. “We were just being precautious, but the main thing is the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”
Over 200 displaced individuals spent the night in ISGH’s makeshift shelters on Tuesday, said Mohammad Amin Moola, the group’s vice president. The number was rapidly rising on Wednesday, he added.
“We will definitely be opening more,” Moola said. “We are not turning anyone away. Whatever we have, we are sharing.”
The devastation from Hurricane Harvey will be long-lasting and the recovery effort for Houston will take years. That’s why volunteers with ISGH ― including Bibi Khan, who heads the group’s social services unit ― are adamant that they intend to help anyone in need.
“There’s no religion,…