Abdul Hameed hands a box full of homemade face masks to a United Hospital healthcare worker in St. Paul on April 3, 2020. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jaylani Hussein

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Dr. Ayesha Rashid asked the imam recently to put the word out for volunteers willing to make some non-medical face masks and help meet a growing need during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sheikh Muhammad Faraz and the congregants of Masjid Hamza al-Mahmood Foundation in Prior Lake delivered in a big way. Some 40 families responded to the call, sewing 1,500 homemade masks for low-risk patients and non-medical staff at local hospitals around the Twin Cities.

That good work also helped bring the al-Mahmood community together in a way that’s been difficult with the mosque closed as part of the statewide effort to slow COVID-19’s spread. Making masks let people put their faith into practice and connect with a sense of purpose.

“This was a substitute for us for being unable to gather in the masjid. I think this kept our spirit alive,” Sheikh Faraz said. “We felt a bigger gathering than when we usually gather in the masjid.”

Ayesha —  a doctor of infectious diseases who understood the seriousness of the virus and it’s potential spread — described the community response as “nothing short of a miracle.”

‘Not just the moms’

Sheikh Faraz said he had expected a response from a half dozen families who could make up to 200 masks when he put the call out to the community with a flyer on March 21. Within 48 hours he knew it would be much bigger — 25 families were on board to help make masks. 

Although al-Mahmood is based in Prior Lake, it serves families across the Twin Cities metro area. The distances created challenges that needed to be solved when so many people wanted to help. Sewing volunteers needed to refill supplies and pick up finished masks while limiting exposure for everyone involved. 

Saima Masood, a student and volunteer at al-Mahmood, was tasked with being the direct contact for the many families that volunteered to make masks. Her job as PNC Bank automation manager transferred well into her position coordinating the volunteers. 

Saima began working with volunteer drivers to move supplies between homes and connect teams of sewing volunteers together to answer questions. She created a WhatsApp chat group for the volunteers to ask questions.

“This was new for 80-90 percent of them,” Saima said of the experience.

Sheikh Faraz had encouraged volunteers to involve their families in the work, calling it a  chance to participate locally and leave a footprint for their children.”

They took the advice to heart.

“Families made sure that their kids, teenagers, or the husbands were helping at home by cutting or sewing and that was inspiring to see,” Saima said. “Everybody at home was working together, not just the moms.”

Congregants of Masjid Hamza al-Mahmood Foundation in Prior Lake made 1,500 masks for low-risk patients and non-medical staff at local hospitals around the Twin Cities. Photo courtesy of Jaylani Hussein.

‘True grit, beautiful character’

Samiya Jamal was one of the volunteers helping create masks. Like many of the other volunteers, it was tough for Samiya to make the time for sewing masks, but with her family shouldering responsibilities at home, she was able to create 50 masks on her own. 

When word spread in her neighborhood that Jamal was sewing masks, four of her neighbors reached out to join her and make more.

Three of her children are students in college or university while the youngest is 13 years old. Outside of their online schooling, Samiya’s children helped their mother in this task by stepping up in other household responsibilities.

With Ramadan around the corner, it has been difficult for Jamal to be away from the mosque and her community.

“It’s really hard right now to stay at home. We are all worried about Ramadan,” she said. 

Ayesha said she’s heartened and astonished at the work done by her community in the span of a week to help her colleagues at United Hospital.

“What started as one family, went to three, then 10, and within a few days, over 40 families had joined hands,” she said. “The true grit and beautiful character of the Muslim community shone like a bright light, unfazed and focused in the face of crises. Each problem was followed by a brilliant solution.”




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Abdirahman Mohamed is a Somali journalist, filmmaker, and contributing reporter for Sahan Journal. Born in Mombasa, Kenya, Abdirahman was raised in St. Paul’s East Side. He works as a producer and specializes...