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How Houses of Worship Help Immigrants Adjust to America – CityLab

Erum Jaffer, a social worker and member of the Ismaili Muslim community, moved with her parents to America from Pakistan when she was five years old. Her jamatkhana—an Ismaili Muslim religious gathering place—helped her parents navigate the college application process, impressing upon them the importance of SAT classes and encouraging Jaffer to leave the community for college. Jammatkhanas in New York City are also instrumental in walking immigrant parents through the city’s notoriously complex high-school application process.


“A person goes to a place of worship for two things: prayer and community,” Jaffer says. “But, once they go, they get whatever other services are provided.”  


These spaces are also perceived to be trustworthy, explains Iman Boukadoum, a lawyer and the director of the Interfaith Center of New York. If an issue arises in a Yemeni Muslim home about divorce, domestic violence, or immigration, the mosque is where one would go to seek answers and counsel. “That’s how it works back home,” Boukadoum says. “The mosque played a central role in their lives, and that’s where community is for a lot of folks.” The first order of business for a new Muslim immigrant—especially one who doesn’t speak English—is to find a local mosque, says Robina Niaz, the Executive Director of Turning Point, an organization that helps Muslim women and children affected by domestic violence. Many new immigrants fear going to government agencies or hospitals for help because they worry about being targeted by ICE. That makes the houses of worship a kind of catchall for immigrant communities. All too often, Niaz says, mosques “are forced into those roles…mosques have had to serve as community centers, often over-extending their resources.”


Frequently, a mosque will connect with Muslim lawyers and invite them to impart civic and legal advice to the congregation. Iman Boukadoum speaks at predominately immigrant mosques from Brooklyn to the Bronx about civic rights and immigration. Boukadoum has seen an increased need for her services since the 2017 election, and has conducted over 25 workshops around the city since what she calls “the insanity” began. “I can’t even put into words how much of a worry, how much of a fear—the deep anxiety—within communities,” she says. “Not just Muslim communities but immigrant communities.” Most of the questions and fears she deals with revolve around America’s naturalization process and traveling outside the country.



Imam Konaté (Teresa Mathew)

If houses of worship cannot provide certain services themselves, they will often partner with the city or other organizations to make sure their congregants get the services they need, functioning as an advocate or conduit rather than a direct provider. Souleimane Konaté, an Imam at the Masjid Asqa in Harlem, regularly works with city leaders and local community- and faith-based organizations like the African Council of Imams and the New York City Mayor’s office. He has helped advocate for a clinic at the Harlem Health Center designed specifically for the needs of his West African Muslim community. It is staffed with translators who speak multiple African languages and accommodates patients who want to be seen by a doctor of the same gender.



How Houses of Worship Help Immigrants Adjust to America – CityLab

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