There are times when the news forces a change to best laid plans.

Such was the case for a Nov. 5 fundraiser, scheduled long ago by the the oldest Muslim relief organization in Canada.

The Ummah Alert event organizers for Human Concern International had to quickly shift focus to include relief efforts for civilians in war-torn Gaza and for the victims of a massive earthquake in Afghanistan.

The result was a heartwarming experience for Iftikhar Shaikh Ahmad, senior program manager for Human Concern International. She told Capital Current that she was heartened by the support shown by people in Ottawa. The sold-out evening raised more than $125,000.

“People in Ottawa are genuinely generous and caring,” said Ahmad, who is an Algerian-Palestinian who moved to Canada in 2016. “Even if they [Ottawa] are not from that particular area of the world, they care and they support this cause,” she said, adding she felt supported by people in Ottawa.

As a mother of three, Ahmad, who joined Human Concern International in January 2018, said her children found it hard to process and cope with what was happening in Palestine when she tried to console them.

“I was telling them, as Palestinians, I do understand that we have that connection, but when I’m looking into the scale of this crisis that we are witnessing, it’s no more about Palestinians,” said Ahmad. “It’s about humanity, the way we know it.”

“People are scared to speak and afraid to share about [the Israel and Palestine conflict] because they risk losing their jobs or being kicked out of the classroom,” said Ahmad. “Palestine and Israel is not an easy topic, and I do understand that from a humanitarian perspective.” [Photo © Jennifer Prescott]

The crisis in the Middle East was triggered on Oct. 7 in a murderous surprise attack by Hamas that killed more than 1,200 in Israel, including many young people attending a music festival. In response, Israel has attacked Hamas in Gaza. Aerial bombing and other actions by the Israeli Defence Force has killed and wounded thousands of civilians in the densely populated territory, the United Nations says.

At around the same time, Afghanistan suffered a devastating 6.3-magnitude earthquake followed by aftershocks that killed at least 1,023 people and 1,663 injured, the UN says.

At the Nov. 5 event, speaker Imam Alaa Elsayed addressed the Israel-Palestine war. Elsayed is a member of the Canadian Council of Imams. He said it was hard for him to stay silent about all the Palestinian victims.

“You don’t have to be a Muslim to defend or honour or support the cause of the Palestinian people’s lives,” said Elsayed. “You just have to be human.”

“People are quitting because they don’t want to be a part of the genocide,” said Elsayed. “Ships are not sailing because now their crew is quitting because they don’t want to take the bombs and kill innocent people. There’s still good in people and that’s who we are.”

Dr. Fahamia Koudra said she found Elsayed’s speech inspiring. “I think he [Elsayed] gave hope.”

Koudra is a family physician in Pembroke, Ont. and a “physician in the community” who does a lot of volunteer work. “It’s nice to be in a community where I’m not too far from Ottawa,” she said. “I can at least be a part of something like this where we’re helping people and making a difference.”

Koudra said she is passionate about helping kids and orphans and is deeply saddened by reports of the number of Palestinian children killed since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war.

According to the head of the World Health Organization, a child is killed in Gaza on average every 10 minutes.

“These children, it’s not only numbers, they had lives, they had dreams,” said Ahmad. “They were dreamers … they were everything and now they don’t exist anymore and that’s something we really need to stop.” 

Ummah is Arabic for ‘community’ and the Human Concern International team said they are encouraging people in Ottawa to show solidarity for Palestinian, Afghan, Moroccan and Libyan communities. Human Concern International members said they were highlighting Palestine and Afghanistan this year because both countries suffered from humanitarian crises that started on the same day.