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"Urgent need"

Muslim organization launches hotline in U.S. after Canadian one flooded with calls from worried Americans

Muslim organization launches ‘urgent’ hotline in U.S.

A major Muslim organization in the United States has responded to Donald Trump’s inauguration by launching a 24-hour hotline to help those who are targets of racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia.

The hotline comes at a time of rising rates of anti-Muslim violence in America, and is billed as the first of its kind in the country.

The service is similar to a youth-oriented hotline in Toronto that says it has been inundated with calls from across the U.S. over the past year.

“We realize there is an urgent and immediate need for the American Muslim community,” said Waqas Syed, deputy secretary general of the Islamic Circle of North America, which dates back to 1968 and has chapters across the country.

“There have been so many stories we’ve heard of children asking their parents ‘Trump has won. What are we going to do; do we have to leave the country? What’s going to happen to us?’” he said.

On Thursday, Trump is expected to sign a sweeping order on immigration that will include blocking refugee admissions from Syria indefinitely, suspend admissions from all other countries for three months while the administration decides which countries to allow, and prohibit entry for anyone from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen for 30 days.

The Islamic Circle of North America’s new 24-hour hotline, which was launched on Inauguration Day last Friday, will offer counseling and also be a place where people can report incidents of harassment and discrimination that many wouldn’t consider reporting to the police.   

“A basic example is somebody spitting on someone or pulling on someone’s scarf,” said Syed. “It doesn’t hurt anyone physically, but these are nevertheless hate incidents … We’d like to provide advice on these and record these.”

The Islamic Circle was already running an information hotline on Islam and Muslims, and since election day, Syed said it had received calls from six people contemplating suicide and at least three who were considering leaving the country.

“It was 100 percent because of the environment since the election,” said Syed.  

In the absence of an American equivalent, many Muslim-Americans took their frustrations to Naseeha, a Canadian hotline for Muslim youth that’s been around since 2009. The volume has also gone up, from around 4,000 in 2015 to 16,000 in 2016, according to spokeswoman Summayah Poonah — 67 percent of the calls that Naseeha now receives are from the U.S. Phone lines are clogged every weeknight from 6 to 9 p.m., Poonah said, and the organization’s staff of 40 is so swamped that only a fifth of callers actually get to speak with a counsellor.

The organization did not provide a breakdown of what callers are concerned about, but did says calls about Islamophobia, and whether they should remove any outward identification of their faith, are common.

“It goes as far as self harm because people feel like they don’t belong,” said Poonah. “For a lot of us, there is no back home, and this is the only home we know.”

When calls veer into more serious territory, such as expressing suicidal thoughts, counsellors will act more as triage, guiding people to outside mental health and treatment programs.
“While we adhere to the principles of our faith in a way that honours its traditions, the call is self -directed and non-judgmental,” she said.

Cover: Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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