In the Bible Belt, non-Christian, faith-based groups used their doctrines of goodwill to participate in rescue and relief efforts during and after Hurricane Harvey, even when a major church closed its doors to its congregation.
August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey slams into Southeast Texas. The region stood no chance against the category 4 storm. Houston, a southern metropolis, shouldered a direct hit receiving record high rains.
The barrage of rainfall resulted in mass flooding and brutal winds that damaged both residential and commercial structures. It seemed all was lost, but there is one thing Texans will not surrender—their religious faith.
Texas is among the most religious states in the US, according to Gallup. Home to 37 megachurches, with 73% of the city population identifying as Christian, in Houston, the predominant religion is Protestant Christian.
Also, Houston is home to popular televangelist Joel Osteen’s mega-complex Lakewood Church. Known for his cheery demeanor, soft-spoken tone and Colgate smile, Osteen has grown to become a modern face for televised sermons and Christian wholesomeness. However, that public image fell into question when Lakewood failed to provide relief to Houston residents during the worst of Harvey’s wrath. Olsteen received harsh criticism after remaining closed to his followers during the storm.
Nonetheless, relief aid overflowed from non-Christian religious groups. Being the fourth largest city in the country, Houston is among the most diverse in demographics. Other religions, such as, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism have formed a sizable minority.
In a Surah, a chapter in the Quran, there is a line saying to “practice regular charity.”
Islamic centers in the Greater Houston applied their religious teaches to emergency aid. As soon as they could, they opened their doors to destitute residents when mega-churches like Lakewood only welcomed hurricane victims after public scrutiny. One location, Brand Lane Islamic Center in Stafford, Texas, not only offered shelter, but also distributed food, drinks and diapers.
Other mosques within the metropolitan area, such as Galveston Islamic Center and Bear Creek Islamic Center, also assisted by providing lodging and emergency supplies.
Other faith-based organizations including Tzedek America, Repair the World, The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston and the Islamic Circle of North America have spent time and resources into aiding the citizens of Southeast Texas in repairing the hurricane damage.
“A big part of the Jewish faith is giving back.”
Tayrn Baranowski, chief marketing officer of The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, an organization that quickly assisted Houston residents after Harvey hit, also so that their aid included “those outside the Jewish community.”
“We set up a distribution center to get people connected with resources,” Baranowski adds. These resources included “cleaning supplies, underwear and water.”
The Jewish Federation partnered with the Jewish charity, Repair the World, who according to Baranowski are “volunteering in Houston to rebuild homes.”
Just as Judaism and Christianity praise altruism, so does Islam.
“One of the pillars of Islam is to give alms: two and a half percent of your savings,” says Shaizaid Chatriwala, a member of Brand Lane Islamic Center and formerly served as the center’s director.
When the storm hit Greater Houston, Brand Lane was being called to offer assistance which the center consented to. According to Chatriwala, “we opened the doors and had people pouring in.”
Chatriwala recalls how the center responded fast and was populated immediately while “Joel Osteen’s church didn’t open until three days later.”
For Brand Lane, giving lodging was no big deal as they “had the infrastructure” to support a large number of displaced residents.
Although, many may say that Texan mosques performing charity work is admirable considering the stings of Islamophobia in the US, the Muslims who volunteered time and resources saw it as an extension of their faith regardless of the current climate.
Prejudicial attitudes against Muslims is still very much strong in the country. According to a 2016 survey by The Brookings Institution, only 44% of Americans hold favorable views of Muslims, with self-identified Republicans only holding 24% favorable views.
Despite this, Chatriwala believes that acts of generosity by Muslims after Hurricane Harvey will change perceptions.
“People became more positive” towards Islam says Chatriwala.
Matthew Gamble is a junior reporter who focuses on news, race, pop culture and politics. A polymath, Gamble paints, draws Afro-futuristic comics and is a photographer. The story is part of the Ark Republic’s inaugural major collaborative project, the Hurricane Trifiecta: One Year Later.