GREENSBORO — The young mother wouldn’t accept money for her deeds. Not as a volunteer at the Islamic Center of the Triad accompanying new immigrants to the doctor as an interpreter or helping someone study for a driver’s license.
But each time Amal Khdour extracted a promise.
“Remember, one day you are going to be put in this situation — please don’t say no,” she told them.
Those who know her say her work decades later continues to live out the spirit of the Muslim observance of Ramadan on a daily basis.
Ramadan, which ends May 12, is the month when Muslims believe Allah revealed key passages of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.
From sunup to sundown during Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink and other pleasures as a way of practicing self-restraint and renewing their faith. It is also a time of giving and humility, and service for Muslims everywhere.
Throughout the year, they can be found taking on the responsibilities of their communities as neighbors — that includes dreaming big to solve problems, fighting so that everyone can eat or have access to a lifesaving vaccine and making their voices heard on important issues.
For Khdour, who doesn’t have medical training, that included founding in 2009 the Al-Aqsa Community Clinic, now located in Burlington, which has a volunteer stable of 35 rotating doctors and specialists, along with other health care professionals. It is free for the uninsured, who pre-COVID-19 numbered in the hundreds each year.
The nonprofit’s software links up with health care systems like Cone Health, Wake Forest Baptist and others, allowing doctors elsewhere to easily share information.
“I want the people to know their lives are valuable and that we honor that value,” Khdour said.
And that they have her attention.
‘We have tried to fill voids’
Imam Khalid Griggs of the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem is just off the telephone with the Forsyth County Health Department, which wants to use the mosque as one of its COVID-19 vaccination sites.
“I’m really excited about that,” Griggs said of helping increase the participation in the surrounding area, which is lower than other parts of the county. “The idea is, ‘Let’s put it right in the middle of the under-served areas.’ “
The southeast Winston-Salem mosque is in one of the most economically-depressed areas in the city. It has long had a food bank with hot meals and deliveries for senior citizens and people confined to their home. The mosque has partnered with the health department and agencies to provide COVID-19 testing and with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center for a free monthly health care clinic.
“We have tried to fill voids,” Griggs said. “If there was a need that was not being met, we’ve tried to do that.”
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Griggs helped to fill another void because he could.
“I see my responsibility in being a voice that speaks out when no one else will,” Griggs said.
The religion was being misrepresented in those early days, said Griggs, a social justice and prison reform advocate and leader in the interfaith community, who later became the first non-Christian associate chaplain at Wake Forest University.
“So many people believed that the Quran’s taught Muslims that it was lawful to kill non-Muslims, and encouraged them,” Griggs said.
People wanted to ask questions. The conversations were sometimes demanding, he said, and sometimes it felt like he had been invited as a target.
“I can honestly say I don’t remember turning down a single invitation to speak,” Griggs said. “It was a very uncomfortable time, but I felt that it was my responsibility to come forward with what I understand about Islam.”
Speaking out has often placed him before national audiences when others in his faith might not share their thoughts because of immigration status or from not having the experience of talking to a crowd.
Working alongside people of all faiths and no faiths has been the best way to show people for themselves, he’s found.
‘This is where I’m needed’
Often, Adamou Mohamed is the one bringing people together, like the interfaith group of clergy who gathered at Center City Park in 2019 when government officials were considering dropping the number of refugees resettled in the 2020 fiscal year to zero.
“All during the worst refugee crisis in history, with more than 25 million refugees worldwide in need of safety — closing the door on families already waiting years to reunite and abandoning the world’s most vulnerable people,” Mohamed said into the microphone.
He was also among a packed meeting with city officials after questions arose over the deaths of five immigrant children in an apartment fire.
Mohamed had been the same voice for refugees and immigrants as a volunteer, before going to work for the resettlement group Church World Service.
Mohamed had come to Greensboro for college and later volunteered his time helping immigrants become part of the community.
He worked in a warehouse for eight years — as a supervisor making good money — but was busiest when he got home: someone needed his help to make an appointment for a child or to understand paperwork not in their native language.
“After a while I said I think this is where I’m needed,” Mohamed said.
He also found it more fulfilling. He would work on a master’s degree in international studies, with a concentration in sustainable development and intercultural communications.
He networked with others with the same intentions.
“They took my hand and introduced me into different spaces where conversations were happening about immigrants and immigration,” Mohamed said.
He eventually became full-time with community organizing and now works for Church World Service and helps refugees and immigrants become more involved in their communities.
He was part of the team on the immigrant rights Welcoming Greensboro Project, which led to the Greensboro City Council passing a resolution declaring the city a “Welcoming City” for immigrants and refugees.
“It’s not just me — so many are involved in this work,” Mohamed said.
Returning opportunities given to him
When High Point’s Chamber of Commerce worked to raise money for a new building that also would house a business resource center, Zaki Uddin Khalifa decided to donate one he was about to sell.
Even though the Oriental rug businessman had a buyer for the building, valued at $1.6 million, he wanted to give back to a city that had been so good to him.
“I had to convince him even to let me tell other people that he gave us the building,” Tom Dayvault, the former president and chief executive officer of the High Point Chamber of Commerce, said in 2006. “He said, ‘If I do that, then I’ve given it to you for the wrong reason.’ I convinced him by saying it would encourage other people to give.”
Three years ago, he donated another building. He gave his showroom to a charity focused on building orphanages and educating underprivileged children in Pakistan, where he grew up and has worked for years to give young people opportunities.
A past “High Point Citizen of the Year,” he is described by those who know him best as sincere, reflective and especially sensitive to the pain of others.
And he is someone who believes in returning the opportunities given him.
When the young college student came to the United States in 1976, following mentor Carl Wheeless, a professor at High Point College (now university), Khalifa opened a store with 40 small rugs — and a town full of friends.
Those who knew Wheeless, who had taught Khalifa political science at Forman Christian College in Lahora, Pakistan, made a point of getting to know Khalifa upon his arrival, always wanting to know if he had any difficulties.
He would go on to build that small rug business into one of the largest in the United States and internationally, all while honing a reputation locally for his humility and goodwill.
Khalifa says that he just wants to do his part.
“Only quietly,” he said.
Making free health care possible
Khdour, who grew up speaking both Arabic and British English, came to Greensboro in 1990 with her husband on his student visa to attend N.C. A&T. She still speaks with a slight Middle Eastern accent.
As a new arrival herself, she taught Arabic to children and nonspeakers through her mosque, and gave beginning classes on Islam that drew Muslims and people of other faiths.
When Iraqi refugees began arriving in the area in 2007, Khdour and others from her mosque would visit to help with the transition. Sometimes women would ask her to accompany them to doctor’s appointments as an interpreter. Often, Khdour would end up in the delivery room.
After she became a familiar figure at Forsyth Medical Center, doctors and a new mothers program through the health department sought her out as a volunteer interpreter.
A cancer survivor, Khdour got doctors and others — first through local mosques and then the larger community — to volunteer their time to make the health care possible.
She would draw on that support to start a medical clinic aimed at the uninsured, especially immigrants and refugees. She had already received permission from the Islamic Center of the Triad to hold a monthly clinic there. She asked health professionals connected to the mosques if they would be willing to volunteer maybe a Saturday a month.
She got immediate and enthusiastic responses from Dr. Fozia Khan and Dr. Jamal Kalala, who became the lead volunteer doctors. Others followed, including some who travel more than three hours to get there. Some medical practices donated medical samples.
The staff also worked with pharmaceutical companies to fill prescriptions for people who could not otherwise pay for them.
A local businessman later allowed them to set up for free in a building he wasn’t using at the time. The staff used dividers to set up examination rooms.
As word spread about the Al-Aqsa Community Clinic, more volunteers and doctors in the larger community — people of varying religious faiths or no faith — also asked if they could help. The clinic expanded and later moved to Burlington, which allows the group to hold the clinic three times a month and also have space for a permanent soup kitchen and food bank. Recently, the clinic partnered with the Alamance County Health Department to provide COVID-19 vaccination shots.
Earlier this year, a man who could not remember the last time he had been seen by a doctor, called knowing something wasn’t right.
He was set up with a virtual appointment by a doctor who sent him to get lab work that was paid for by the clinic.
The clinic accepts donations but does not apply for grants or federal funding as a way to make sure of having autonomy over getting people help.
The man ended up having cancer and the doctors were able to get him into UNC Hospitals for further treatment.
“He gets a chance,” she said, “and hopefully not too late.”
Khdour is only doing what her parents did in their community back in Jordan.
“She’d feed the town,” Khdour said of her mother.
Her father, a businessman, was one of the patriarchs of their community and shared his time, money and experience with those who came to him in need.
“He never turned anyone away,” Khdour said.
Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.