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Nonprofit agency focuses on resettling Muslim and Arabic-speaking refugees

More than 100 people gather Sunday at Masjid Al-Qassam mosque to enjoy food, crafts, performances and more during a celebration to benefit refugees resettling into the area. Radiant Hands helps the families settle in for up to a year.
More than 100 people gather Sunday at Masjid Al-Qassam mosque to enjoy food, crafts, performances and more during a celebration to benefit refugees resettling into the area. Radiant Hands helps the families settle in for up to a year.
Published Jun. 6, 2016

Times Staff Writer

TEMPLE TERRACE

Lavender incense mixed with various aromas of Middle Eastern dishes poured out of the Islamic Center Hall.

Vendors selling perfume, henna and crochet were lined up. Children giggled and dashed around the influx of people.

Muslim men and women said "peace be upon you" in Arabic to each other as they came to buy tickets for food and make donations to Radiant Hands, a nonprofit helping to resettle refugees.

Radiant Hands president Magda Saleh, 49, ran back and forth in the hall Sunday afternoon setting up hijab donations, food, crafts and tables. With the heat and rain, the venue was moved into the hall instead of the open courtyard.

The event was a celebration of food, crafts and entertainment to raise funds for resettlement of refugees in the area, and it was hosted at Masjid Al-Qassam mosque at 5910 E 130th Ave.

Radiant Hands initially provided individual counseling for women and families. But now 80 percent of the nonprofit's clientele are Muslim and Arabic-speaking refugees.

Saleh, an Egyptian Muslim raised in the United States, said she never expected to be serving the refugee community, a group she never knew existed. She is also the director at Bayaan Academy Home School Co-op.

Her clientele shifted in August 2015 when CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group that works to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America, asked her to help refugees from Muslim or Arabic-speaking countries. She got her first family in October and her organization has now taken in and helped 110 refugee families. The newest family came in on Wednesday, she said.

Most refugees are from Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iraq and Syria. Radiant Hands helps the families settle in for up to a year.

Many are either severely ill or have disabilities, Saleh said.

"They're coming for health and education," she said.

The hardest part is getting the refugees to learn English, she said.

A partnership with Lutheran Services Florida helps the refugees find jobs. The CARIBE program, an adult education project funded by the Florida Department of Children and Family Services, offers free English classes and Radiant Hands provides transportation for them, Saleh said.

Safiullah Masoubi, an Afghanistan refugee, said Sunday that the hardest part was getting used to American culture. He said the program helped him integrate into the United States and rebuild his life.

"I am very confident in the situation in which I am living in," Masoubi said.

He said it's hard for refugees because they don't have any family here and they don't know much about the community. But, he said he enjoys his new life.

"I am so happy," he said, "I didn't face any discrimination with my family."

Even with Gov. Rick Scott asking Congress to halt refugees to Florida, Saleh said her organization still receives donations and volunteers.

"Everybody understands that it's politics and it not the public's views," she said.

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Kalimah Ujaama, a 20-year-old civil rights activist and poet who gave a performance Sunday, expresses her views on the refugee crisis and Islam through her poems.

The University of Florida junior goes by the stage name Lady K, her alter ego who "transitions into someone who is more confident, elegant and fierce."

Lady K "stands up for people who don't have a voice."

Ujaama said she hopes people understand the refugee crisis and that the newcomers are just trying to escape persecution. People shouldn't be afraid of Islam, she said.

"We bleed the same," she said. "We're all human."

Contact Ariana Figueroa at afigueroa@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3350. Follow @ArianaLFigueroa.