It all goes back to the earliest days after IRUSA was founded in 1993, when a few staff members were working from a founder’s living room in California.
“Our plan was Surah Maun,” says Anwar Khan, now CEO. “‘Have you seen those that rejected the faith, rejected the orphan, that urge not the feeding of the needy?’ We had just graduated and we wanted to help anyone in need. We wanted to spread peace and goodwill to all mankind and help people around the world.”
They started by working hand in hand with volunteers — especially youth.
Khan recalls that the first event staff attended was an Orange County youth conference in December 1993. The high school and college students may not have had much money to donate, but they had something the workers recognized as essential—enthusiasm and energy.
“We decided to work with youth groups and sisters’ organizations from the beginning, because we believed the most important resources were being overlooked—human resources,” Khan said.
The students spread the word, and the first small donations rolled in for humanitarian aid in Bosnia.
The early workers never forgot the youth groups and sisters’ organizations that built a strong foundation. Khan remembers even the smallest children wanted to help. In 1994 or 1995, a little Syrian girl handed him her piggy bank to help the children in Sarajevo. The next time Khan met her, more than a decade later in Houston, she was volunteering with several organizations to help people in need.
“These kids, I call them Islamic Relief babies,” he said. “From the time they’re crawling, they’re helping people.”
“The people that grew up with Islamic Relief in the 1990s, many of them are our volunteers and donors today,” Khan adds. “Many of them learned activism through Islamic Relief. It made them more socially aware and active. I would like to think of Islamic Relief as a school to teach people to go out there and make the world a better place, and not just talk the talk but walk the walk.”
In its second decade, Islamic Relief USA increased its focus on relief efforts in the United States, creating new opportunities and roles for volunteers. Day of Dignity events provide free food and services in cities across the country each year. In recent years, the domestic department has added new programs to help Americans in need, from financial savings programs to food pantries. And a new Disaster Response Team formed in 2011 mobilizes in communities from coast to coast to get down to work with hands-on assistance when emergencies like tornadoes strike American communities.
Efforts like these not only help our neighbors—they help change stereotypes.
On a Disaster Response Team deployment, a relief worker tapped an IRUSA staff member on the shoulder and said, “You know, I’ve never met a Muslim before, but now I see they’re just like us!”
Today, as we mark Islamic Relief USA’s 25th anniversary, thousands of volunteers are working with tens of thousands of donors to reach millions of people in more than 40 countries around the world. Thank you for being part of it!