Flint, MI—On the last day of their youth leadership summer program, more than a dozen young Muslim volunteers visited The Muslim House in downtown Flint for the first time and experienced firsthand what community service means

The young volunteers had organized a water drive. Though water drives are nothing new to Flint, for many of those present it was their first time coming face-to-face with the reality of the water crisis.

As the seventeen youths prepared to hand out the water, Imam Hanafi Malik gave them all a word of advice about interacting with people picking up water.

“Everybody here knows about As-Salamu Alaykum,” he said, referring to the a greeting in Arabic meaning “peace be with you.”

Malik continued, “In the hood, you can go out and say ‘As-Salamu Alaykum’ and somebody will always respond with ‘Wa-Alaikum Salam’ (an Arabic phrase meaning “and upon you be peace”) or something. You’re in good company. There is some good in the hood.”

As everyone walked outside to the front of The Muslim House, cars were already lining up at the curb. Youths as young as 11 carried heavy 30-packs of water from the truck and into people’s cars under the piercing midafternoon sun. In about the same time it took the children to unload the cases of water from the truck they’d rented to haul it in, the water was gone.

Malik, who was been working at The Muslim House for 26 years, said he hoped the lesson for the children would not necessarily be the work it took to move heavy cases of water around, but rather the realization that even eight years later, “folks are still needing water just as much.”

Memebers of the Flint Islamic Center’s Youth Leadership Circle standby ready to handout water by the cases to member of the community in downtown Flint on Tuesday, August 10. (Santiago Ochoa | Flint Beat)

Noor Shahabi, 20, one of the drive’s volunteers and member of the leadership circle, worked fervently to match the speed at which the line of cars needing water was growing.

“I do this for my love of God, love of my religion and my need to serve the community,” Noor said.

She explained how growing up, values like charity and service were embedded into her education and religion.

“Islam is all about loving other people and serving people. I feel as a person I am so privileged and I have so much that it wouldn’t be right for me to just sit and do nothing with it. I need to offer all of my skills to the community,” Shahabi said.

For Shahabi, who has volunteered at events like these before, being exposed to the sort of struggle that comes with still needing to live off bottled water has been part of her reality for a while.

Noor Shahabi, 20, makes her way down to the front of The Muslim House after attending a lecture by Imam Hanafi Malik on Tuesday, August 10 in downtown Flint. (Santiago Ochoa | Flint Beat)

For some of the younger volunteers, it was their first time coming face to face with the way some people in Flint are forced to live.

Ibrahim Hamdan, a twelve-year-old and member of the leadership circle said giving out water at The Muslim House was one of the first times he’d experienced that kind of need before.

“This is a big world. I haven’t discovered a lot of it and I don’t really see this every day but it puts a smile on my face when I see that people are getting the water they need and it puts a smile on their face. What these people have to go through, it’s a big difference from what I know,” he said.

Brother Bara, a math teacher at the Flint Islamic Center’s Genesee Academy, also oversees the Youth Leadership Circle. Much like Shahabi, Bara has heeded the call of Islam to serve.

When asked about the importance of serving, Bara took a few minutes to think before answering.

“We’re all on our journey back to God, God is the caretaker for everything. He provides me what I have and provides others with what they have,” he said, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. “Our prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, says that you are only given sustenance through the weak amongst us … if there is anybody that has a need that I can be there for, that’s one of the most uplifting, spiritually nourishing experiences,” Bara said.

Santiago Ochoa

Santiago Ochoa is Flint Beat's Latinx Community reporter. He is always looking to write about anything Flint or Latinx. He especially enjoys investigative reporting and human-interest stories. A communications...