Muslims call for tsunami aid

(Original publication: January 18, 2005)

MOUNT VERNON — Muslim leaders who gathered to pray last night for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami sounded what may become a familiar theme: Financial aid to South Asia will have to be continued for long after the disaster fades from headlines.
“It may take 20 or 30 years of relief efforts to get these communities established,” said Abdus-Salaam Musa, an official with INCA Relief, a Muslim humanitarian group that has sent workers and supplies to several of the affected countries.

The American Muslim Women’s Association, a Westchester-based group, organized last night’s hastily planned service at the Westchester Muslim Center to spur Muslims to reflect on the meaning of the tsunami — and to plant the seed that donations will be necessary for years.

“A catastrophe like this has to wake us up,” said Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan of Pleasantville, chairwoman of the American Muslim Women’s Association. “Have we changed our lives in any way since the tsunami happened or have we gone back to our old ways? It has shown us that life is so precious, so short, it can be gone in a blink of an eye.”

Yasser El-Safadi, president of the Thornwood-based Upper Westchester Muslim Society, said that the tsunami should be a wake-up call to individuals and nations.

“If you are the same before and after, you have missed something important,” he said.

The tsunami is very much a Muslim tragedy, as the most devastated nation is Indonesia, home to more Muslims than any other nation. About 185 million of the country’s 220 million people are Muslim.

Indonesia lost more than 115,000 people. Overall, the tsunami killed 163,000 people in 11 countries.

Many regions of Indonesia are known to be very religious. Despite the chaos caused by the tsunami, an estimated 200,000 Indonesians are this week making the hajj, the great Muslim pilgrimage through the holy cities of Medina and Mecca.

Dr. Shafi Bezar, chairman of the Westchester Muslim Center, which has raised $10,000 in donations so far, said that people of all faiths should find common ground in aiding survivors of the disaster.

“This is a human tragedy,” he said.

Several speakers said that a great challenge would be to keep South Asia in the news as the months pass, so that people continue to write checks.

“We cannot forget our brothers and sisters throughout the world who have been affected by this for many years to come, not just the foreseeable future,” said Ola Nosseir of Briarcliff Manor, communications director for the American Muslim Women’s Association.

The American Muslim Women’s Association, in conjunction with the Center for Jewish-Christian-Muslim Understanding, is sponsoring an interfaith forum about the tsunami on Jan. 30, at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center, 701 N. Broadway, Sleepy Hollow. The program will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and will cost $10. For information, call 914-591-8194.