In our continuing series on preparedness for storms and other forces of nature (see “Severe Weather Events Sending A Message: Be Prepared” in the December 14, 2012 issue of the Muslim Link for information on preparing your household) it is necessary to see how our local Islamic community organizations are situated in their preparation response.
This is especially important in light of the recent North East blizzard and the loss of life there. In order to investigate this issue more thoroughly, Muslim Link sent out many inquiring emails and made over a dozen phone calls to nearly all the major masajid in the greater DC area.
Unfortunately the results were less than comforting in that some communications were not even responded to. For those that did get back to us for this story, the basic take away was that very few, if any, of our local centers are prepared to aid and assist in a great disaster in our area either their own congregations or the greater mainstream community.
The simplest form of policy in place, is that most places of worship / community centers will close in severe weather and that will be posted on their website or sent via listserve to ask people for safety’s sake to remain at home in treacherous conditions. A few have done one step better in actually conducting, or planning to organize in the near future, basic preparedness workshops for educating the congregation about how to stock up on necessary supplies and other life-saving tips – such as PGMA held in December. Several places mentioned they encourage neighbors to check on neighbors and to take in other families if the power goes out for example in a nearby home. Yet the masajid are not prepared to be a resource to receive a whole neighborhood in the case of a more wide-spread power outage where families may need to rely on a local warming (or cooling) and feeding shelter.
The ADAMS Center, according to their President, Br. Farooq Syed, has been approached by county and state level disaster responding agencies to provide this kind of service to the community, but asserts that they would need funding from those entities and Islamic charities in order to upgrade the facility to have the required amenities – community showers for example. Similarly most of the smaller masajid said it would be difficult to play a shelter role without such vital infrastructure as a fully-functioning kitchen that they may not have currently. This should open our eyes to our local centers as they fundraise to expand and we should be proactive in thinking of our spaces as not only places to gather for worship and prayer but for places of safety to shelter us from a storm in the literal sense.
Again ADAMS Center said it would be great to play that role because a mosque is uniquely placed to be sensitive not just to the physical needs of the victims comprised of a bed and a meal, but also to the spiritual needs. They would also be able to be sensitive to the dietary requirements and sleeping arrangements of the displaced families that public shelters are attune to but cannot not always accommodate. Indeed, moving in this direction, Dar Al-Hijrah has already joined area churches in providing temporary overnight shelter for the homeless on frigid winter nights. We have identified a problem – it is time to be action oriented and think ahead. Our scouting programs teach our youth to ‘be prepared’. However, when disaster strikes, the time to prepare has passed.