Asma Hanif is one woman impacting the lives of many. For more than a decade, she has been providing free healthcare for women who are homeless, uninsured, or victims of domestic abuse, as well as running, Muslimat Al-Nisaa, the only known shelter in the country that serves Muslim women, exclusively. Not only do the women who come to Asma get help, they also get a healthy dose of hope.
Growing up in the segregated South, Asma’s mother encouraged her to become a nurse. After graduating from Howard University and the Medical University of South Carolina, she worked as nurse practitioner and midwife. Then, following a move to Atlanta in 1987, Asma started a clinic for the uninsured. Continuing on with her clinic work, Asma relocated to Baltimore, MD where she founded Muslimat Al-Nisaa.
Running a battered and homeless women’s shelter wasn’t part of the plan, but after treating dozens of abused Muslim women over the years at the clinics, she knew there was a need and felt compelled to give these women who had nowhere else to turn, a helping hand. Asma has said that she’s not trained to operate a shelter, but she does it anyway. She does it for all the women she’s been able to help — and those she couldn’t.
Muslimat Al-Nisaa is a three story, multi-family house that provides a sanctuary and escape to up to 50 Muslim women, mostly immigrants, who are victims of domestic violence or homeless due in part to circumstances out of their control. It is a place where they can live and pray without having their faith questioned. Domestic violence doesn’t discriminate, but according to Asma, not all shelters are sensitive to Muslims, as few facilities meet the strict cultural and religious needs, making it difficult for women to seek the help they need, when they need it.
“It is not just a place for them to sleep comfortably. Our goal is to get them prepared to stand up on their own feet.”
In addition to food and shelter, Muslimat Al-Nisaa provides home-economics training, Islamic education, vocational/occupational training, resources to GED and Diploma programs, access to information for further education, clothing, counseling, library, health and nutrition counseling and medical services. While benefiting from the resources of the shelter, the residents are also expected to give back to the community in some way. Many of the women volunteer at local food pantries or other community based organizations.
“It is not just a place for them to sleep comfortably. Our goal is to get them prepared to stand up on their own feet,” said Asma.
Asma has been featured on MSNBC, invited to forums at the White House and the United Nations for her work at the shelter. And although she has three grown children she could live with, she continues to live in the shelter with the women, giving her the opportunity to dedicate more of her time to her work and be accessible for counseling and support.
Her commitment and vision for Muslimat Al-Nisaa is unwavering, “If I have the ability to help someone, I will try to help them. That’s the legacy of my grandmother. She turned no one away.”