A Coming of Age for Elderly Muslims?

Community News

Hibaaq's father had a stroke and she didn't know where to turn to find culturally sensitive home care for him. She works full-time. Haitham was diagnosed with the onset of dementia; he had so many questions. Imagine if Hibaaq and Haitham knew that they could go to the Senior Ambassador at their local Islamic Center who could guide them to resources, playing a role much like a Youth or Social Services Director play for their constituents.

American Muslim seniors need tools that empower them and resources to help age gracefully, keeping their unique needs in mind. They need research and representation. To address these needs, after a decade of introspection and concern, Muslim seniors recently launched the American Muslim Senior Society (AMSS). The first meeting of its Muslim Advisory Council was held on Sunday, April 9, 2017 at the Islamic Society of the Washington Area.

The health and wellness of Muslim elders need the establishment of culturally and ethnically sensitive senior nutrition and recreational programs.

There is demand for a resource center that addresses the needs of seniors and their families -- many who do not think of these grave issues until they face them personally.

AMSS is a community based non-profit health and long-term cares resource center, and aims to provide Muslim seniors with both -- tools and resources. Bringing to life, the hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): "He is not of us who does not have mercy on young children, nor honor the elderly" (Al-Tirmidhi).

The founder of the society, Mona Negm is a known figure in the Muslim community in Montgomery County, Maryland, where 12.5 percent of the population is over the age of 55. "We are the most under-served community in the county," Negm tells the Ambassadors, who have signed up for training by AMSS. Instead of spending money building resources, Negm's vision is to tap into the wealth of resources that already exist in the county and help the county cater to the Muslim community.

"Muslims have been neglected. They don't know your needs. When they don't know then it is difficult to channel resources," explains Negm.

The resources in the county are exemplar. Donna Phillips, a retired national expert in Aging is assisting Negm "shine the light" on the Muslim community and its special needs. "We want to arm the mosque with resources for long term care givers, to build an infrastructure in the mosques that would address the needs of older people," says Phillips.

"It is never too early to start planning," advises Negm. "It makes it easier for our children."

"We need younger people. The more knowledge trained Muslim sensitive caregivers, Muslim geriatricians. Get on board and learn about it she urges young Muslims," stressed the effervescent Negm, "It is a lucrative field," says Negm to youth who are searching for career options. From making phone calls to check in on seniors to giving them rides to the doctors, the younger members of a community can also become engaged in the care of their community's elders on a voluntary basis.

Ayman Nassar sits on the board of AMSS. "Seniors are the most neglected segment in our community. Islamic Leadership Institute of America has been working closely with Mona Negm since when she was leading senior programs at MCC having our youth support some of AMSS activities and initiatives. There has been a lot of collaboration over the years. At ILIA one of the values we try to instill in the youth is inter-generational work, especially because many youth have no grand parents where they live and non extended families," said Nassar, who is the President of ILIA.

AMSS aims to develop and test its model in the county. After kinks are ironed out, the team hopes to make a model that can be used in masajid and Islamic Centers around the state, region and eventually the country. Negm hopes every masjid in the nation will start a senior project.

The training at ISWA started with a prayer by Imam Faizul Khan. Dina El Shahzly and Souha Shami presented the goals and objectives of AMSS. "We provide a variety of inter-generational, interfaith, educational, culturally sensitive and socially engaging opportunities around issues of interest to diverse communities," stated El Shahzly."We conduct training programs in areas of outreach, care-giving and advanced care. We design programs encouraging interactions, sharing of life experiences, social enrichment, sense of wellness with healthy aging and continued independence for all of our participants. We can also offer technical, logistical and other support to our participants on a planned or ad hoc basis, as necessary."

AMSS operates with the support of two vital advisory councils. Mona Negm explained AMSS role of bridging the Stakeholders Advisory Council (SAC) and the Muslim Advisory Council (MAC). SAC is made up of service providers of services, research, training and experts such as Phillips. The Muslim Advisory Council comprises of the Imams and Leaders of the Muslim communities who represent the 55+ and their families.

Imams and community leaders are expected to partner with AMSS in the dissemination of research on Health and Long Term Care (H&LTC) and receive training on senior needs.

Elaine Binder, past President of the Jewish Council for the Aging (JCA), says it is extremely important to her that they convey information to the Muslim community that everyone else has. She has worked with Negm on the Commission for Aging and is a member of AMSS Stakeholders Council. The issue for transportation is an issue in the county particularly for older adults, so the JCA initiated an information referral system for seniors. Through Binder's work, the county has a transportation liaison. These are the resources she wants to make sure that the Muslim community also has access to.

A current priority for AMSS is conducting research on Muslim seniors in Montgomery County. The survey will be decimated through senior clubs, Jummah Prayers, following Eid prayers, Ramadan get togethers, and senior gatherings. AMSS members will attend cultural events, frequent halal stores, plan to host town hall meetings, visit Sunday Schools, to have surveys answered. "If they don't know who we are and what our needs are, they can't help us,' Negm emphasizes. AMSS members previously met with County Executive Ike Leggett with their plans and their concerns.

The goal of the organization is to place a trained Ambassador in every masjid. So far 10 applicants have filled out applications for Montgomery County and 8 more are expected. "Ambassadors will learn about mental health, how to stay healthy, prevent disease and stay well. They will go into their communities and decimate information," explains Negm.

MCC senior group, started 5 years, is a model that every Muslim community can emulate. They offer programs and services. "It is a wonderful escape from the daily stresses on aging. When seniors get lonely they get depressed," says Negm. She believes that this is preventative care from chronic disease that can be a larger burden for a family and community. Under this model, each community center becomes a mini resource center for the aging. AMSS will start initiate senior programs at ISG and the IMAAM Center at the request of the centers.

Seniors have so much to offer their communities, says Negm. "We can mentor younger people, teach and tutor our youth. Why artificially separate us from the kids?"

Several imams and leaders from the masajid in Montgomery County participated in the meeting including Imam Hadji of the Haneefiya Masjid in Silver Spring, Cisse Hassane representing the seniors from the Islamic Society of Germantown, Salma and Farouq Musa from the MCC, Imam Jamil Dasti from the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg, Ariafiani Mira, Sukiman Kadir and Imam Fahmi Zubair from the Indonesian Muslim Association of America (IMAMM) Center, Summar Mohamed from the Islamic Community Center of Potomac, Aizat Aladopo and Humaira Khan from the Islamic Center of Maryland, and Imam Abdullahi of the Muslim Community Center.