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After an earthquake devastated his home country of Turkey, Tolga Misirli stepped up.
More than 48,000 people died in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake on February 6. And humanitarian groups spent weeks searching for survivors. As the executive director of the Turkish American Society of Minnesota, a cultural nonprofit based in Fridley, Misirli organized donation drives and shipped supplies to victims in Turkey and neighboring Syria.
But as the Shoreview resident checked in with other members of the organization, he found that some had family members who were displaced back home. The organization became a place not only to support humanitarian relief efforts abroad, but to provide emotional support close to home, too.
The Turkish American Society of Minnesota aims to enrich the lives of Minnesota by engaging them in Turkic cultural experiences, education about the culture, interfaith dialogue, and humanitarian relief. The organization includes volunteer members from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.
As part of Sahan Journal’s coverage of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, we’ll be highlighting several community members and their charitable deeds over the next few weeks. Ramadan began on the evening of March 22, and ends with a worldwide celebration of Eid al-Fitr tentatively set for April 21. The holiday commemorates the month when the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book, was first revealed more than a thousand years ago.
Observing Muslims who are physically capable abstain from food and drink daily from dawn until sunset during Ramadan. Muslims also pray throughout the day, read the Qur’an, spend time bettering themselves, and treat others with kindness, which often includes donating to charities.
Misirli shared the humanitarian relief efforts that are important to him, and talked about the organizations he will be supporting during the holy month. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How are you giving back this Ramadan?
If you’re interested in talking to Sahan Journal about the causes and organizations you’re supporting this Ramadan, please email email@example.com to set up an interview.
What are you thinking about most this Ramadan?
This Ramadan I will be thinking about understanding the Qur’an more. I’m trying to spend more time understanding what the Qur’an says, as well as Islamic theology.
Humans need to learn new things every day. Muslims believe that when we die and our actions on Earth are accounted for, our sins may go up or down, our good deeds may go up and down. But our ilm, or our knowledge, stays the same. We won’t get any more knowledge, so it’s important to gain it now.
What causes are important to you?
Aiding the victims of the earthquakes. That occupies my mind and my time. It is so devastating. So this Ramadan, I will try to have empathy with them and work to relieve their suffering and pain a little bit.
What charities or groups are you donating to during Ramadan?
I’ll be supporting any relief organization that is helping the earthquake victims. Previously some local churches helped raised money, so I help motivate their members to donate to a charity they like.
Personally, I donate to Embrace Relief, a nonprofit international relief organization. Last year my family opened a water well in Kenya using their network. I raised the money and then they sent pictures of the water well, so they have my trust.
Turkish Americans also started that relief organization. It’s not as big as Red Cross or Red Crescent, but they’re doing nice work.
They have some other projects going on too. Other people also started a water well project like me. Readers may want to check the website to see what ongoing projects they want to support. For example, they are giving cataract surgeries to people in Mali.
They’re providing international relief for Ramadan in the United States, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, Yemen, Tanzania, Uganda, Morocco, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, and Indonesia. They are giving food donations for those selected areas.
And they’re also still accepting donations for earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria. For long-term relief, they’re giving rent help for the victims as they find new homes. About 120 families are receiving rent assistance through Embrace Relief. They’ve already provided 200,000 ready-to-eat meals, and 5,000 food packages, as well as other basic necessities, such as 300 tents and 35 container homes.
The Turkish American Society of Minnesota has also sent money to the relatives of our volunteers who were affected by the earthquake and is continuing to collect donations for the victims.
Why is it important to give during Ramadan?
If you make someone’s life easier, Allah will make your life and your afterlife easier. This is a promise made to us in the Qur’an and in the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. As a believer in this faith, I believe that helping others is also helping yourself.
How can others join in your support?
They can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If they email us we can set up a time to talk for tea or coffee. We like making a personal connection. And Turkish coffee is very famous. We can talk about more ways to help people.
Generous people will always be able to find somebody in need. But the most important part in giving those donations is that you should not be ignorant. You should not make the other party uncomfortable in receiving your help. I try to be as humble as possible. Money and other goods are given to you by Allah, we should be humble in giving it to needy people.
There’s a nice tradition in the history of Turkish people. In this story, there was a closed box with a hole just big enough that a hand balled up in a fist could go in and come back out. But other people can’t see if your hand is putting gold coins in the boxes or taking coins out. Nobody knows if you’re taking or giving. Generous people should be like that. Nobody needs to know how much I am helping or how many dollars I’m donating. The act itself is more important.