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Events, Life

I survived Hurricane Harvey, and this is what I learned

A few days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall, my husband left to perform the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca). As the Hurricane approached, my phone was ringing like crazy with weather warnings and cautions to leave South Padre Island. With my experiences growing up in a war zone, I quickly began to think about the safety of my children, and I thought it would be best for us to leave the island for safety. It had only been a few weeks since we had moved from Fresno, California to Corpus Christi, Texas, and we had no idea how to prepare for a hurricane, neither did we have many friends to help us figure things out. I sent the kids to school that morning and went home to pack our most essential needs. We were lucky enough that a friend of my husband’s from work was in contact with us to help us figure out where to go. So we packed the car, picked up the kids in the afternoon, and left Corpus Christi for Dallas.

Knowing that Houston and possibly San Antonio would be affected by the storm, we had decided to get as far away from the storm as possible. The road to Dallas was crowded with people who were trying to evacuate much like us. After a ten hour drive, we finally reached our hotel in Dallas, exhausted and afraid, not knowing how bad the storm would be. We watched our television with horror as Hurricane Harvey hit the Padre Island, Port Aransas, and many more areas familiar to us, leaving behind damaged houses, businesses, churches, museums, and schools. 

After a few days at the hotel we decided to go back to Corpus Christi, just days before Eid Al-Adha. We arrived in Corpus Christi late at night and after trying to find a place to stay, we eventually found we had no choice but to go back to our home on Padre Island, not knowing what we would find. Upon arrival, we were met with an island that was extremely windy, deserted and outright terrifying. It felt like we were the only people on the island, and we probably were. We were relieved to find that we still had power and no flooding had occurred. The kids went to sleep from the exhaustion, but I couldn’t sleep after hearing the wind outside and all the sirens in the distance. It was not a good homecoming. The next morning, we went to the grocery store and saw that the shelves were almost completely empty. With my work in California helping refugee families, I usually find myself being the one helping those in need, and not the other way around… which is something I am not used to. 

This time, it was my family that needed shelter and a welcoming home.

At the end of the week, we went to the local mosque and celebrated Eid Al-Adha with the other Muslims in the city, but despite Eid being a time for joy, we felt the immense sadness of the community there. The Imam was encouraging his congregation to help others overcome this disaster and to be patient in the face of this challenge. We collected donations, and through this I was able to regain my strength in the aftermath of this tragedy, partnering with others in the Muslim community of Corpus Christi to help those less fortunate. I also met many more new friends and families who helped me and my kids overcome our fear and difficulty during this time. Faith leaders combined their effort to do fundraisers and open prayers for the victims of the hurricane, and these partnerships between different faiths help find ways to work together to serve people. The nonprofit organizations, the governmental organizations, and the faith-based organizations all wanted to help. The week after the Hurricane, I visited Port Aransas and other cities, and I saw massive damage which broke my heart. As much as the hurricane changed our home, these cities were severely damaged.



Our duty is to help those suffering

We tend to use terms that label people; refugees, evacuees, and immigrants, and what is common between them is that they have all lost safety and security, and this is what I saw in Texas. Hurricane Harvey brought back memories from my past, and also made me reflect on the world around us where people are being killed, injured, and being forced to flee their homes because of terrifying conflicts or natural disasters. Oppression, persecution, and financial crises are forcing people to seek safety and protection which is not entirely different from what we saw with Hurricane Harvey. 

I believe that as an American Muslim who lives in the United States, my faith and upbringing gives me a sense of responsibility to care about others and comfort their pain and sadness. God gives me the strength to be there for others and give our care to others, and He gave me that strength in the aftermath of Harvey. If our hearts are not strong in belief, then we would not have the will to be firm when this test of being there for those in greatest need arrives. This belief also empowers me to try and inspire others to always try and do good for humanity by serving those in need. We all have to pass on this inspiration to each other no matter which faith we have, we serve all humans in need and strive to do good in this life for others. In Islam, helping others is a core principle, we are encouraged to contribute positively to society. Our holy book and our Prophet’s (peace be upon him) sayings highlight how helping human beings is a fundamental aspect of the faith and is a form of worshipping God. No matter how we worship, all religions at their core aim to please God, be good human beings, help build a society and play a positive role on earth.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said,

“The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.”

We need to realize that our brothers and sisters who are suffering need us. We should feel pain and anguish when we hear stories of their suffering, and this should motivate us to perform actions that are constructive to help alleviate their suffering. Faith groups have a very important role to play in strengthening resilience and reinforcing the unity of the community. Faith is important because individuals who hold these beliefs can recover from or manage the crises quite well. Interviews with survivors of hurricanes and tsunami reveal that belief in God and prayer remain important in helping them cope with disaster.

As I drove around Rockport, Port Aransas, and other surrounding areas a couple of days after Harvey, I recalled the destruction I witnessed when I was a child living in a war zone. Having a community to help me and my family overcome the difficulty was an extremely important part of helping me cope. This is why we as Muslims we should be there for those in need, whoever or wherever they may be. 

Wasan Abu-Baker is an American Activist with a Palestinian Origin. She is the Vice Chair of Corpus Christi National Justice for our Neighbors and a staff writer for Kings River Life Magazine in the US. She writes about Palestine, Islamophobia, and Education. She is an educator and earned her MA from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York.

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