CAIRO - Extending a helping hand to Muslim women, a Canadian-based Islamic center has launched the first women-directed helpline to offer confidential emotional support service to those in need.
When we looked around, we realized there are a lot of helplines out there, but nothing specific for Muslim women to call and get support in respect of their faith and culture, Sabah Kazmi, the director of the Mississauga-based Women's Resource Centre, told Toronto Star.
The idea of the helpline started when Kazmi planned to launch educational programs and empowerment seminars for women.
Instead, she was answering phone calls from women across the Great Toronto Area (GTA) simply looking to talk.
They were talking about what was going on in their lives. And at the time, I wasn't prepared to help, said Kazmi.
Modeled on hotline Naseeha (advice in Arabic), the Muslim youth helpline launched in 2008, the new service was launched last October following months of research, training and fundraising.
The hotline, the first helpline specifically for Canadian Muslim women, is staffed by 13 counselors and is open for two hours a day, five days a week.
The counselors, aged 25 to 45, come from diverse backgrounds and speak a range of languages.
They have been all trained by experts, including a suicide helpline, and a few have previous experience as counselors.
Confidential and anonymous, it's meant to be a place to which women can turn for emotional support, peer counseling and referrals.
The line, however, is not a crisis line as callers in crisis are told to call 9-1-1, or the counselor may alert authorities, Kazmi said.
Muslims make up nearly two percent of Canada's some 32.8 million people and Islam has become the number one non-Christian faith in the country.
Though still in its first weeks, the helpline has been a success, receiving dozens of calls from women across Toronto greater area.
It's a support system so that if you have nowhere to turn, you can turn to us, Kazmi said.
The calls usually range from marriage and relationships to information on shelters and food banks, and in a few cases, abuse.
Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, praised the service as filling a vital need in the Muslim community where women often struggle to find support at their local mosques.
The Women's Resource Centre is a project of Mercy Mission Canada, a non-profit religious organization that, according to its online profile, offers educational and faith-based programs for the Muslim community.
I think it's important for people to know: What is their philosophy? Is it non-judgmental? People who are calling are already very hard on themselves, Hogben said.
Kazmi said the primary goal of the helpline is to simply listen and not preach.
The call goes in the direction that the caller wants it to go, said Kazmi.
The basis of the helpline is support-based, and not necessarily advice given.
But if a caller asks for an Islamic point of view on a topic, we will tell them what it is, but then always ask: What do you think about that? How does it make you feel?
Funded by community donations, the Muslim women helpline hopes to expands its hours over time.
Every time I see calls at different times, it really hurts me because we have missed that call, Kazmi said.