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The Radiant Hands' Experience

By:  Magda Elkadi Saleh

At a time when it seems that everyone is at odds, and the world is full of human suffering and pain, there are many bright rays of hope here in our community.  One of those very bright rays of hope is Radiant Hands.  Subhan'Allah, meeting the needs of our newly settled families from all over the Muslim and Arabic-speaking world has become a cause that so many in our community have rallied around.  Last October, there was much talk about the "Refugee Crisis in Tampa."  Three weeks ago, a "Celebration of Success" was held for and by these same refugees, who prefer to be called "newcomers" or "newly settled families" or "muhajireen."  They came to Tampa through no choice of their own, leaving behind their countries, their families and their belongings in the hopes that they could build new lives for their families in safety.  They have faced and continue to face many challenges:  they are struggling to learn the language; they are struggling to find jobs; they are struggling to fit in.

However, the amount of good that has come from people in the past nine months to try to alleviate these challenges is nothing short of amazing, masha'Allah.  It has been wonderful seeing all of the masajid working together and all of the ethnic communities within the Muslim community coming together to help bring smiles and confidence back to the faces of these new families who now call Tampa home.

There is barakah in work that people do for the sake of Allah SWT alone.  There is barakah when people forget their ethnic, cultural, educational and social differences to work to alleviate the suffering and hardships of others: Translating for them at doctors' appointments; giving them driving lessons; escorting them to the health department for their immunizations; providing free dental and medical care; etc.

In the past month alone, the community has come together to buy over 150 toys to be given as Eid gifts to the children of the newcomers, ages 2-10.  Community-members have dug deep into their pockets and donated over $3000 towards 190 gift cards, so that each child ages 2 - 18 could buy new clothes for Eid.  Generous community-members donated cars to these families, so that they no longer have to walk to work and to the grocery store, and so that they can make it to the masjid to interact with the rest of the community.   College students have been offering free tutoring services to a great many of these newly settled children, so that they can be more successful in school in the fall, and so that they can get the educations that so many of their parents do not have. Many community-members have made much-needed monetary donations to help keep the whole system moving.

The Radiant Hands experience is not only touching the Muslim community.  Masha'Allah, partnerships have been built with many agencies, faith-based organizations and individuals in Tampa Bay.  Members of the Hyde Park United Methodist Church have stepped up to the plate in providing services to many of our families, and they are in awe of the blessings that they have witnessed this  Ramadan.  In their own words: "Radiant Hands truly radiates love and positive results for so many needs in our refugee community.”  and "Allah, God, is working through us and inspiring us and blessing our families during this holy season of Ramadan."   Subhan'Allah, this is definitely not the story you are going to see on the prime time news programs, but this is the truth of what is happening.

In the coming weeks, many more families will be arriving in Tampa, and they will need your support.  If you have been supporting the families who are already here, please continue to offer your support.  If you have not had the opportunity to support them yet, please do so.  Every member of our community can do his/her part, and it does not have to involve money or lots of time.  Often, all that a family wants is to be given an job opportunity.  Often, they simply want to be offered a ride to the masjid on a Friday to pray Jumuah and to interact with other families.  Often, all they want is to get a phone call asking about them and letting know they are not forgotten.  Often, they simply want our duaa and well-wishes.

May Allah bless and reward each and everyone who has helped make the Radiant Hands' experience such an amazing one, and may He continue to shower His blessings on us all and ease our way.

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Our Community - Our History - Our Now

By:  Magda Elkadi Saleh

Having lived in this community for over 25 years, I have seen many people come and go. I have bid farewell to people who have moved to different cities, states or countries, and I have bid farewell to people who have departed from this world into the next.  Each person who has departed has left his or her mark on the community and on our hearts.  In this past week, we lost two very dear members of our community, one to illness and the other to an accident; one was older, the other was a young man, rahmatullahi alayhim.  Such has been the case almost every week of every month over the past years. 

At the same time, I have witnessed just as many weddings, births and graduations.  The sadness of loss is always offset by the pure joy of blessed events and successes.  Such is the cycle of life.

Having lived in this country for almost 50 years, I have been witness to the many changes that the Muslim community has gone through over the span of almost half a century.  As new immigrants to this country, we were often the only practicing Muslim family in the small towns where we lived.  As we became teenagers, we were definitely the only hijabis in our schools.  We reveled in the successes of Mohammed Ali in the early 70's and were thrilled that he had brought the name Mohammed into common conversations; after him, rahmatullahi alayhi, other prominent Muslim athletes helped make our names - Ahmad, Ismail, etc. - common names in the Western world.  We lived through the Iran Hostage Crisis, when we were harassed and told to go back to our country, even though we were not from Iran.  And, of course, we lived through 9/11, one of the most tragic events to touch the US, after which no one would feel the safety and security that we had felt growing up in this great country.

We began to see the growth of Inter-Faith Dialogues and Hijabis in both the White House and in Target commercials; we had gone from being on the fringe to being mainstream.  Mainstream, however, is not where some members of this society want to see us.  No matter how mainstream we become, no matter how positive our impacts are on the society, there are some who make it their goal to paint us as "radicals" and "anti-American."

We ARE American.   We do not understand or accept the oppression and tyranny that exists in the countries whence our parents came.  We ARE Muslim.  We have been raised with our Islamic values without the cultural baggage that can very easily wear Muslims down and put a distance between them and their deen.

Masha'Allah, our community is a vibrant, loving and productive community, a community that we must cherish and grow.

We must know, with every fiber of our bodies, that, no matter how much negative media attention we get, we are way ahead of where we were 40 years ago.  Subhan'Allah, after the tragic killings in Orlando, there was much discussion on Facebook about Muslims and the Qur'an.  I was amazed by the number of Christians defending Islam and making it clear to the detractors that neither Islam nor the Qur'an condone the mass killing that took place. 

We have made progress.  We must continue to make progress.  We must continue to get to know our neighbors and be good neighbors.  At the same time, we must be vigilant, and we must keep in mind that, though they are the minority, there are those that would like to hurt us.  At our masajid, we must support the efforts of our community-members to provide enhanced security, and we must be grateful to them and stand by them.    

This is our community.  This is our country.  This is our history.  This is our now.  

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Visiting Our Neighbors - Our Duty as Muslims

By:  Adel Eldin

One of our duties towards our neighbors is to visit them, check on them, help them, be there when and where they need our help and wish them well. You cannot go to sleep knowing that your next door neighbor is hungry. Our beloved Prophet Mohamed Peace Be Upon Him ( PBUH) has repeatedly recommended to take care of neighbors to the point that the companions of Prophet Mohamed( PBUH) thought the neighbors will inherit from them.

Putting these teachings into action locally, the Dawaa Committee at ISONET ( Islamic Society of New Tampa) has been reaching out to the neighbors to wish them well. We also explain that, although Muslims do NOT celebrate Christmas, Muslims DO celebrate the message of JESUS, who is loved by Muslims as a Prophet of God, and who is mentioned in the Holy Quran 25 times more than the Prophet Mohamed (only mentioned 5 times).  We also point out that the Virgin Mary is the most honored woman on earth, and that a whole chapter in the Holy Quran was named after Her.  She is considered to be a role model and yes, she was wearing a (Hijab) or a head scarf, which is symbolic of purity and modesty and which is also worn by Muslim women and adult girls.

What we do is a public relations' (PR) campaign especially at a time with rising wave of Islamophobia and with the recent events in Paris and San Bernardino.  We have been doing these visits for years, but felt it was even more important as anxiety was at its peak, and everyone was curious to know what Islam and Muslims are all about. A simple way to achieve that and change the narrative is we visit, talk, laugh, share something sweet and agree on working together on making our community better and our country safe. As an aside: When it comes to media-bashing, you will be pleased to learn that almost every group that came before Muslims as the new kids on the block, had their fair share of being bashed and called names! The Catholic Deacon explained that the same type of media-bashing happened to Catholics 100 years ago; they were not even considered to be Christians, were treated very badly, and were discriminated against when applying for jobs.

So, for two consecutive Sundays, following Fajr Prayer and joining the Free Community Breakfast which is open for Muslims and non-Muslims interested to in learning about Islam, brothers and followed by QuranClass and with a group of committed volunteers, we visited Cyprus Point Community Church, our next door neighbors, and had a very warm welcome; they even offered helpon securing our borders for the safety of our community!

We then visited Heritage Church, a small church but one which is deeply rooted - as a 5th-generation Floridian explained- and then went on to visit the nearby Sikh Temple.  At both places of worship, all of us shared the word of peace.

The following Sunday, we followed the same routine: Fajr Prayer, then free community breakfast , then Quran class, and then went to visit St. Mark Evangelist Catholic Church on Cross Creek Blvd. We were met by a very welcoming staff, and we dropped off sweets.  It was perfect timing: hungry worshipers had just finished their service and were walking into the hall; we wished them well, and the leadership there welcomed cooperation on educational efforts to clear the misconceptions about Islam presented by the media. After visiting the church, we went across the street to visit the fire station as the crew was just finishing breakfast.  We had great time with the staff and agreed on a common enemy:  ignorance.  We agreed that education and kindness are the main ingredients to the curefor Islamophobia.  Islamophobia is hurting everybody eventually, as we are all Americans, and we have to work together for the betterment of all of our community.  The same was echoed at the second fire station, and everyone left with a new chapter being written in building bridges of trust and respect with their fellow Americans of Muslim faith living in the same community.

Everyone is encouraged to replicate this work wherever they happen be to show that Muslims do care about their neighbors and are fulfillingthe teachings of our Beloved Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), who was sent as a mercy to all mankind.  In this way, we can change the negative media notion that Muslims hate America and do not care about their community and country.  Our action speaks volumes!

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