Muslim groups help hurricane victims

Monday, September 12, 2005

HOUSTON -- About 2,000 Muslim volunteers helped victims of Hurricane Katrina at the city's downtown convention center Sunday, the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Muslim leaders from around the country who were in Houston for the volunteer effort said the anniversary was coincidental. But they welcomed the opportunity to highlight their faith's true meaning.

"We're not trying to prove anything, other than what our faith requires us to do," said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Muslim American Society. "What goes with our faith is to help others, to respond and show compassion when people need it, and I'm glad we can do it."

Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the board of the nonprofit Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Muslim leaders viewed Sunday's volunteer opportunity as another chance to show that the Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by Islamic extremists who do not represent the true meaning of their faith.

Religious and community groups who volunteered to help at shelters picked through a random drawing what day they would work. Houston's Muslim community got Sunday.

"If today not only happens to be a day where we are feeding people and helping people and doing our Islamic duties ... but at the same time it also presents an opportunity to dispel myths about Islam and terrorism, then so be it," Ahmed said.

CAIR, along with other Muslim groups such as Islamic Relief and the Muslim American Society, are part of the Muslim Hurricane Relief Task Force, which is raising $10 million for victims of Katrina. Ahmed said the groups so far have raised between $3 million and $4 million.

Anwar Ali, a computer consultant from Dallas, began his volunteer shift at 4 a.m. Sunday and was still working by mid-afternoon.

He had brought carts filled with food to the cafeteria area and helped elderly people walk from one part of the convention center to another.

"You find people of different faiths coming together, working together, feeding the poor. It's amazing. It's a wonderful feeling," said Ali, 38, who already was scheduled to be in Houston this week on a work-related project but came to town late Saturday so he could volunteer.

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