Interfaith involvements and friendships instill insights
By Mary Stamp
The multiple involvements of Naghmana Sherazi in the Spokane community make her particularly sensitive to relationships in the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and wider communities.
For many years she was involved with the Sisterhood of Salaam and Shalom in Spokane, about 10 Muslim and 10 Jewish women who met regularly for about five years until COVID disrupted their meeting in person.
"We are close. I have felt their love, support and respect," she said, "but since COVID we have been unable to meet."
Through Refugee and Immigrant Connections Spokane, Naghmana has been assisted and advocates for human rights of the Afghan refugees who have resettled in Spokane.
"Jewish and Christian communities have been active in resettling Afghans, even though most are Muslims, providing everything from clothing to pots and pans to emotional support," she commented.
"For 20 years, many Afghans helped U.S. troops during the war in Afghanistan," she said. "We are responsible because of all they did for us, during our 20-year war, which led to them having to flee their country. Now many have been resettled in Spokane."
When the War in Ukraine started, the focus shifted to resettling Ukrainian refugees from Europe, Naghmana said. They are here with help and support under the Lautenberg Agreement and have many resources available that the Afghan refugees don't have.
"Our Jewish and Christian communities came out in full force to help them," she said. "It has helped build great bonds of friendships and solidarity."
Afghan refugees came under Humanitarian Parole and were given three months to settle with assistance, which is not enough of a buffer, given that they did not speak, read or write English, and sometimes not even their own language," she said.
Naghmana said many Afghan refugees came from isolated rural areas that lacked water, plumbing, schools and TVs. They helped U.S. troops keep track of the Taliban in back areas of Afghanistan and therefore had to flee.
"We are now helping them communicate visually by using smartphones to make videos on YouTube on how to order an Uber or how to make a doctor's appointment," she said.
"These have made a huge difference so women—who depend on their husbands to drive them—are less isolated," said Naghmana, who works with refugees through Refugee and Immigrant Connections Spokane.
From Oct 1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2023, about 6,326 Afghans arrived in Washington State, 594 of whom settled in Spokane, according to Kimberly Curry of International Rescue Committee.
Since the recent attack by Hamas against Israel and retaliation by Israel, Naghmana sees an impact in Spokane's refugee community.
"While most of the community understands that Hamas does not represent Palestinians, some may not," she said. "What Hamas did is genocide. So is the response of the Israeli government."
Naghmana helped found Muslims for Community Action and Support (MCAS) in Spokane, which is active speaking against antisemitism, misogyny, Islamophobia and all forms of hate.
She urges community dialogue, rather than just rallying around war. Naghmana felt the Spokane City Council acted in haste, passing a resolution supporting Israel without receiving voices from the Muslim community or considering wider community impact.
"We condemn Hamas but must not confuse Hamas with all Palestinians or Muslims," she said, believing the major sentiment among people is for peace in the Middle East. "We need to advocate for peace and a cease fire.
"We need a resolution that brings the community together and brings peace there and to our community," she said. "We would like a political resolution not a military resolution."
Naghmana is concerned that both Jewish people and Muslims in the community might be targets of hate.
For example, she sees concern among the Afghan refugees.
"Their children are already experiencing bullying in schools," she pointed out.
Recently, one woman called her afraid because the Chicago landlord killed a Palestinian child and attacked his mother.
"That sent shock waves over the community," she said.
The woman asked if she should get a gun, Naghmana said, "Absolutely not!"
Now Afghan refugees experience fear in their new home.
"They came traumatized from experiencing violence around hospitals and schools, and bombings in their communities in Afghanistan. This is fresh trauma on top of the trauma they experienced," she said, calling the city and community to take responsibility to help reduce hate.
Through MCAS, Naghmana plans to invite members of the City Council to an open forum to hear stories from people experiencing new trauma now.
An immigrant from Pakistan, Naghmana is aware of the dynamics of settling into a new community and life.
Her younger brother came to the U.S. and is married to a Hispanic woman.
He sponsored their mother who then sponsored Naghmana, who had earned a master's degree in English language at Karachi University.
"I'm here because of chain, or family, migration," said Naghmana, who first came to Houston where she earned a degree in cytogenetic technology—looking at chromosomal anomalies to understand genetic diseases.
In 2012, a Spokane company hired her. Even though it closed a year later, she decided to stay and worked for the Spokane Regional Health District. Liking the opportunities here, she decided not only to stay but has also become invested in this area.
In 2019 and 2021, she ran for City Council, convinced her voice is needed, both as a refugee/immigrant and as a renter who works two to three jobs to make ends meet.
"I understand overburdened, underserved people of the community," she commented.
Her niche in advocacy now is as director of the climate justice program with The Lands Council, helping people understand environmental and climate policies and their impact on people.
Naghmana is raising funds to host a Legislative Summit in June 2024 to explore environmental and other issues that have impact on BIPOC communities.
With cherry-picking season late last summer, migrant workers affected by heat needed advocacy for air-conditioned tents and protection from working too long in the heat, she pointed out.
"This is a critical time in history to do something about the environment, because there are many funds and grants available for building a green infrastructure so we can continue life on our planet, and reverse or halt the effects of climate change on people, wildlife and crops," she said.
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