Ministry Profile: Islamic Family and Social Services Association

Here in Edmonton, numerous Islamic communities work together to respond to the needs experienced within the Muslim community and beyond.  How do they do that?  IFSSA!

As with so many non-profit ventures, it all started when a few members of a community got together to help meet a need.  At the beginning that need became obvious as low-income Muslim families struggled to gain access to healthy and halal food.  So an uncle in the community opened up his basement and they began a food pantry and hampers to help people out.  And of course, it grew from there.  Starting in the early nineties in a basement, today they have three different facilities around Edmonton and 22 paid staff.

For the last several years, IFSSA has had three main areas of work. 

  1. Meeting essential needs like food and clothing.  Last year, the Muslim community through IFSSA assisted more than 7000 families and distributed more than 640,000 pounds of food.
  2. Emergency Rent help and financial counseling.  Last year, IFSSA was able to provide more than $100,000 in emergency rent help to families in danger of losing their home.  This assistance can prevent a family from experiencing a deeper crisis, and it provides the opportunity for IFSSA workers to help a family consider how they might improve their financial situation.
  3. Fostering Healthy Families. “The Fostering Healthy Families program provides direct support services to family members and individuals affected by family violence in the immigrant community. IFSSA is committed to helping keep families together and free from abuse. Also to guide those that have been affected by violence in the family to heal, regain control and to feel safe in having a place to come to for help.  A Muslim female provisional psychologist provides counselling services in the areas of trauma, self-esteem, marital discord, family mediation, depression and healthy relationships. The services are offered in a sensitive and knowledgeable manner with an understanding of cultural and Islamic aspects.”  (http://www.ifssa.ca/services)
Alongside these three main areas, IFSSA also works with partners like the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers and Catholic Social Services to help new immigrants to Canada find their feet and integrate well in Canadian Society.  They have been working with youth for many years through a program they call The Green Room; which seeks to create an “open space for youth to foster meaningful connections, grow, and serve the community, rooted in Islam and relevant to time and place.”

In the last few years, IFSSA has also identified affordable housing for large families as an area of high need, and has begun a partnership with Right at Home Housing Society to help create homes for low-income families.  They hope to see some new units built in the next few years.

What fuels the heart of a ministry like IFSSA?
1The Islamic teaching of Zakat, one of the five pillars.  It reminds all Muslims of their responsibility to care for their neighbours.  Muslims from various communities see supporting the work of IFSSA as a way to obey this core teaching of their faith.

They are also fueled by a sense of identity grounded in the Quran.  Omar Yaqub, chair of IFSSA’s board describes their brand identity as embodied by the phrase “Created to Serve.”   He says, “It is a proper representation of our principles, a reminder of God’s verse within the Quran (3:110), You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men.” The phrase speaks to many dimensions. IFSSA is here to serve people both directly, and secondly, we as people, volunteers or staff with IFSSA were created with the purpose to serve others.  Serving others is spoken of within the Quran as medicine, and it speaks to the need within; an inner void that is filled through helping others.”

Here’s a glimpse into some of the work they do:  Amina’s story!
Amina* approached IFSSA in distress after having experienced physical, emotional and financial abuse from her husband. She was in need of intense emotional support, as well as assistance in understanding the lasting effects the trauma has had on her physical and mental health. She was assigned an outreach worker who began to meet with her regularly to begin the healing process. Amina received professional counselling and was also directed to additional social supports, such as legal assistance. After three years of ongoing support from IFSSA, Amina has now taken ownership of her life.
She is still reliant on social assistance but has found it insufficient for her and her children. After being denied eight times for Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) status, our staff intervened on her behalf through her local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). After this, she was finally approved on her ninth attempt!
Through it all, Amina’s resilience, patience, and courage has been remarkable to everyone who has worked with her.
*The name of this client has been altered to ensure her privacy

To learn more about IFSSA, visit them on their website:  www.ifssa.ca

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