The First Women’s Muslim Shelters in New York and California

by Johanna Elattar

It’s Ramadan, and as an Arab-American Muslim, I’ve always loved this month. Ramadan is the time of year when Muslims all over the world fast, pray and reflect on their beliefs. Every Muslim must give a percentage of their income to charity during Ramadan. I like to give to organizations that support homeless people, as well as animal charities. 

While looking for a Muslim women’s charity to donate to, I was surprised to discover that New York City has a shelter for Muslim women. I had never heard of it before, but it turned out one of my friends has been volunteering at the Asiyah Muslim Women’s Center.

This shelter is different from others because it’s specifically for Muslim women and their children. The name of the shelter was chosen for the Prophet Moses’ adoptive mother, whose name was “Asiyah.” She represents strength and dignity for Muslim women. 

The Asiyah Muslim Women’s shelter is a project of Turning Point for Women and Families, a nonprofit organization that provides services to Muslim women and children in New York City. The shelter provides a safe and supportive space for women and their children for up to six months.

The shelter staff are trained Muslim women who offer trauma-informed care and culturally sensitive support. The shelter also provides counseling, legal assistance, job training, child care and access to health care. In addition, the shelter offers halal meals and prayer facilities, creating an environment that respects and honors residents’ Islamic faith and cultural traditions. 

Nestled in Brooklyn, Asiyah has six bedrooms and 20 beds. The facility provides shelter and support services to Muslim women and their families who are victims of domestic violence, as well as Muslim women dealing with homelessness and evictions. The shelter provides its residents with help for addiction and any other issues that the residents might face. 

The organization’s mission is to empower Muslim women and children to rebuild their lives free from violence and abuse, and to promote a culture of healthy relationships within the Muslim community. 

It aims to provide a safe and secure environment for women and children to stay, as well as access to a range of services, including counseling, legal assistance, job training and education. The staff at the shelter is composed of professionals with experience in social work, counseling and legal services who are fluent in multiple languages—including Arabic, Bengali, Urdu and Punjabi—to cater to the needs of the diverse Muslim community.

“As a Muslim woman, I was afraid to leave my abusive marriage because I didn’t know where to go, and I was afraid of being judged by my community,” said Zenab, a  shelter resident. “But Asiyah Muslim Women Shelter provided me with a safe space where I could start over and rebuild my life. The staff at the shelter were very understanding and supportive, and they helped me access the services I needed to move forward. I am now in a much better place, and I am grateful to Asiyah Muslim Women Shelter for helping me through this difficult time.” 

Dina, another resident, expressed gratitude for the cultural sensitivity of the staff at the shelter. She said, “Being a Muslim woman, it was important for me to be in a space where I felt understood and supported. The staff at Asiyah Muslim Women Shelter were very culturally sensitive and respectful of my beliefs and practices. This made me feel more comfortable and at ease during my stay at the shelter.” 

Across the country 3,000 miles away from Asiyah is Amanah Muslim Women’s Shelter—or “Amanah House”—in Sacramento, California. The shelter was established in October 2021. Five Muslim-centered organizations have worked together to open Amanah, which means “safety” in Arabic. Like Asiyah in New York, California’s Amanah House is the first Muslim women’s shelter in its state.

Amanah House accepts Muslim women who are facing homelessness, domestic violence and eviction, along with their children. This shelter has made a commitment to supporting vulnerable individuals and families. Amanah House serves women and children from various backgrounds, including the South Asian, Arab and Black communities, as well as those who recently converted to Islam. The shelter also provides a safe and supportive space for women and their children for up to six months. The shelter offers counseling, legal assistance, job training, child care and access to health care. Like Asiyah, the Amanah shelter provides halal meals and prayer facilities.

In addition to providing shelter and support services, both shelters engage in outreach and education to promote awareness of domestic violence and healthy relationships within the Muslim community. The organization hosts workshops and events that focus on topics such as self-care, healthy relationships and financial literacy.

“The Amanah shelter provides a vital service to Muslim women in California, offering a safe space where they can begin to heal and rebuild their lives,” said Imam Suhaib Webb, an American Muslim scholar and community leader.

Both the Asiyah and Amanah shelters represent important responses to the uncommon challenges that Muslim women face when seeking help for domestic violence or homelessness. By providing safe and supportive spaces that honor residents’ Islamic faith and cultural traditions, these shelters offer a lifeline for women in need. They are critical resources that provide not only basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing, but also a sense of community, support and hope.