01/09/2017 16:01 BST

Houston Mosques Open Doors To Hurricane Harvey Homeless At Eid

'They are the number one priority.'

Muslims in Houston have opened their mosques on the eve of Eid to shelter victims left homeless by Hurricane Harvey.

According to the Associated Press, MJ Khan, the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, which operates the Champions Islamic Centre and several others that are providing shelter, said: “They are the number one priority. They will not be disturbed, they will not be displaced, they will not be moved.

“People who come, if they have to pray in the parking lot, they’ll pray in the parking lot.”

Houston’s Muslim community, an estimated 200,000 people, has opened many of its community centres and sent hundreds of volunteers to serve food and deliver donations. Some have rescued neighbours from high water.

Despite Harvey’s historic flooding hitting the Houston area just days ago, the rituals of fasting, an iftar dinner and prayers continue at the Champions mosque, also known as Masjid al-Salam, and other community centers in Houston. But some families who participate in those rituals will spend the night at a mosque because they can’t return to their homes. Others will head from prayers Friday morning to volunteer at food banks and shelters. Still others find themselves at one of the city’s mega-shelters, unable to get to a mosque for the holiday.

Islamic leaders and scholars say the work underscores the spirit of the festival, which coincides with the hajj, or pilgrimage to the Islamic holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Muslims slaughter livestock and distribute the meat to the poor, commemorating the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim - also known as Abraham to Christians and Jews - to sacrifice his son in accordance with God’s will, though in the end God provides him a sheep to sacrifice instead.

Rick Wilking / Reuters
Houston residents have been driven from their homes by Hurricane Harvey

“The ultimate goal of holding and practicing all of these rituals ... is to help others,” said Imam Hassan Qazwini, leader of a Detroit-area mosque and one of the top Shiite Muslim leaders in the United States. His mosque, the Islamic Institute of America, is dedicating this Eid to raising money for storm victims, and state and national Islamic organizations also have been spearheading similar efforts.

“I believe opening your door on the day of Eid for refugees and people in need is a form of worship itself,” he said.

Sitting in a chair inside the Champions mosque’s gymnasium, Mabel Rozier recounted how she was rescued from her third-floor apartment as the floods outside reached the second floor. A sheriff’s deputy dropped her at the mosque, which at its peak took in around 35 people.

Rozier she said she was grateful to have a comfortable place to eat and sleep while she waited to return home.

“Muslims are just like any other type of person. They’re caring, loving, giving people,” said Katherine McCusker, also staying in the gymnasium. “I feel very fortunate that they were open and willing to come and have this space.”

At the George R. Brown Convention Center, which gave shelter to around 10,000 people at its peak, a handful of Muslim evacuees were organizing a small Eid prayer for Friday.

Rick Wilking / Reuters
Swathes of Houston are underwater following the storm

Hasan Logan, 33, has been meeting with other Muslims during the several days they’ve stayed inside the convention center, sometimes blocking off a small prayer space with chairs and their shoes.

“It’s going to be hard (observing Eid), but I’m going to do it,” Logan said.

Nearby, Ismail and Rabia Vaid were volunteering with the American Red Cross, which has run the shelter and expanded it as it doubled its original 5,000-person capacity. For several nights after their shifts ended, they slept in cots set aside for volunteers and then returned to do more.

“It’s not about religion,” Ismail Vaid said. “When a problem or chaos happens - whether it’s natural or man-made - as a Muslim and as humanity, we have to participate.”

Liyakat Takim, a professor of global Islam at McMaster University in the Canadian city of Hamilton, Ontario, said what’s happening in Houston is the best example of Islam in action - and what is most important to the faith.

“Muslims are very much part of American society and they should contribute in any way possible,” he said. “If you cannot be a good human being, you cannot be a good Muslim. ... The primary identity is not as a Muslim - the primary identity is humanity.”