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WASHINGTON DC, February 14, 2024 - SMF welcomes President Biden's decision to grant deferred enforced departure (DED) to certain Palestinians who are present in the United States, as announced by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on February 14, 2024. This decision recognizes the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where thousands of civilians have been killed or injured by Israeli attacks since October 7, 2023, when Hamas militants launched a terrorist attack against Israel.

By granting DED, President Biden is providing a temporary safe haven to an estimated 6,000 Palestinians in the US, who would otherwise face the risk of deportation to a war-torn region. DED is a discretionary authority that allows the President to defer the removal of any foreign nationals whose return to their country of origin would pose a danger to their lives or well-being. DED also authorizes employment for eligible individuals for the duration of the deferral period.

SMF hopes that this decision will encourage other countries to follow suit and offer protection and assistance to the Palestinians in need. SMF reiterates it's call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and the unrestricted flow of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

SMF urges President Biden to continue his efforts to end the violence and achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East, based on justice, dignity, and human rights for all. SMF also calls on the international community to support the delivery of humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of Gaza, and to hold accountable those who have committed war crimes and violated international law.

SMF stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people and their legitimate aspirations for freedom, self-determination, and statehood.

WASHINGTON, DC - February 13, 2024 - The Shia Muslim Foundation (SMF) was honored to participate in a crucial meeting convened by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on February 13, 2024. The meeting, held virtually, brought together representatives from various community organizations and DHS officials to discuss pressing concerns related to travel policies and procedures affecting diverse communities, including Shia Muslims.

The meeting commenced with opening remarks from DHS officials, highlighting the importance of engaging with community stakeholders to address travel-related challenges. DHS Assistant Secretary Brenda Abdelall and other high ranking officals spoke at the discussion, inviting participants to share their experiences and concerns.

During the meeting, participants engaged in a comprehensive discussion on various aspects of travel policies, including trusted traveler programs, redress procedures, and screening protocols. Representatives from community organizations shared firsthand accounts of individuals encountering challenges at ports of entry, such as prolonged screening processes and visa denials. These personal anecdotes underscored the need for greater transparency and consistency in the application of travel policies to ensure fairness for all travelers.

Assistant Secretary Abdelall and other officials provided insights into DHS's efforts to address community concerns and improve the travel experience for all individuals. They highlighted ongoing initiatives aimed at enhancing communication between DHS and community

stakeholders, as well as efforts to streamline redress processes and minimize unnecessary delays in visa processing. Additionally, DHS officials reiterated their commitment to upholding civil rights and non-discrimination principles in all aspects of their operations.

Throughout the meeting, participants also discussed the importance of collaboration between DHS and community organizations in addressing travel-related challenges. They emphasized the need for continued dialogue and partnership to identify systemic issues and develop effective solutions that promote inclusivity and respect for diverse cultural and religious practices.

During the meeting, representatives from SMF actively engaged in discussions concerning visa denials and prolonged processing times faced by Shia Muslim scholars traveling for religious purposes. SMF raised the critical issue of Shia scholars being unfairly targeted due to their travel to countries of religious significance, such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon. The Foundation emphasized the detrimental impact of such visa denials on religious and cultural exchange within the Shia Muslim community.

"Today's meeting provided a valuable platform for stakeholders to voice concerns and seek solutions to the challenges faced by Shia Muslims traveling for religious purposes," said a spokesperson for SMF. "We are grateful for the opportunity to engage with DHS and other community organizations to advocate for fair and transparent travel policies."

In addition to raising concerns about visa denials, other participants emphasized the need for enhanced communication and transparency in screening procedures and redress processes. The attendees underscored the importance of addressing exceptions to prohibitions on profiling, particularly those impacting Muslim travelers.

Throughout the meeting, participants engaged in constructive dialogue, sharing personal anecdotes and community experiences to illustrate the impact of current travel policies. DHS officials acknowledged the validity of concerns raised by community organizations and expressed a commitment to working collaboratively to address them.

Miami, FL – February 8, 2024 – Bound by their faith and a shared desire to help those in need, seven runners from across North America united under the banner of The Zahra Trust, an Islamic charity supporting orphans and widows, to conquer the 2024 Miami Marathon on January 28th.

Driven by the initiative of Salim Kassam, The Zahra Trust's media and communications manager, the team wasn't merely competing in a prestigious marathon; they were embarking on a mission of compassion and awareness. Despite their diverse backgrounds and varying levels of running experience, these individuals quickly forged a deep brotherhood, fueled by their shared purpose and unwavering faith.

Among them was Kumayl Lakha, a Minneapolis-based lawyer who initially grappled with self-doubt due to his limited running background. Yet, the opportunity to contribute to The Zahra Trust's noble work proved irresistible. "The night before, the pre-race jitters were palpable," Lakha shared. "But the camaraderie we shared, the encouragement and belief we gave each other, made all the difference."

Joining forces with fellow runner Ali Zhian, Lakha set his sights on raising funds for orphaned children in conflict-stricken regions like Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. Their combined goal: $2,000 USD. As part of the larger Zahra Trust team aiming for $10,000 USD, their efforts resonated with donors, bringing them close to their target with $1,735 USD collected so far. Their unwavering determination pushes them to reach the finish line of their fundraising goal by February 28th.

"They ask you [O Prophet in] what [way] they should donate. Say, 'Whatever donations you give are for parents, relatives, orphans, the poor, and [needy] travelers. Whatever good you do is certainly well known to Allah,'" Lakha recited, quoting the Quran to emphasize the importance of aiding vulnerable populations.

For Lakha, the Miami Marathon marked the beginning of a personal journey in the world of running, intertwined with his commitment to charitable causes. He envisions himself participating in future marathons, each stride propelling him closer to supporting those in need.

The Zahra Trust, recognizing the power of such challenge-based events, is already planning its next fundraising endeavor – the Hackney Half Marathon in mid-May. "These events foster community, build connections, and raise awareness about our work," explained Kassam. "When participants actively fundraise, they become ambassadors, spreading the message to their networks, creating a ripple effect of positive change."

The Shia Muslim Foundation applauds the unwavering dedication and inspiring efforts of The Zahra Trust runners and their supporters. Their unwavering commitment to serving the underprivileged serves as a beacon of hope and a testament to the transformative power of collective action. We are honored to share their story and encourage others to join their mission of making a difference in the lives of orphans and vulnerable communities worldwide.

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