Casa De Paz Helping Refugees
By Aboobaker Ebrahim
March 24, 2009
Sister Amira and Dr. Riyad Taha are the founders and current owners of Casa De Paz, Inc. Located in the heart of Dallas on Phoenix Drive close to the sprawling Presbyterian Hospital Complex, Casa De Paz is surrounded by apartment complexes occupied by refugees and immigrants from all over the world.
“Well, I have been working in the refugee neighborhood of northeast Dallas for about ten years. At first we used to visit the refugee apartments using our cars only. Then when a very large population of Somali Bantu’s were arriving in Dallas, we rented office space in order to assist the new families because it was going to be impossible to visit all the apartments,” said Amira Taha talking about the beginning of the center. “There we assisted the families by helping them with food stamp applications, Medicaid applications, reading their mail, organizing the community, etc.”
She continues and states with strong emphasis on fulfilling the needs of the refugees “We also had classes for children on the weekends by teaching Qu’ran, Arabic and Islamic Studies. On Friday’s we had the Jummah prayer. These programs were very successful and the surrounding Muslim community in the larger masjids provided some funds, some food and other types of support.”
The Muslim refugee population has grown into a large community in Northeast Dallas. Many of these refugees are from Burma. The first thought by sister Amira was that an Imam was required to teach the children and conduct regular prayers at the Casa de Paz. The Tahas purchased a condominium nearby to house the Imam and have retained the services of Imam Abdul Magid from the Burmese refugee population.
“He is a certified Imam by a council of ulama scholars from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Burma. He is hafiz al Qur’an and holds a distinguished certificate in Hadith. He makes the Friday khutbah and has established the five daily prayers at the center” said founder Dr. Riyad Taha who specializes in Internal medicine and Cardiology and is a well known community member who is ever vigilant in ensuring the success of the center.
In November 2005, Eid al Fitr a fire engulfed the center and the building burned all the units were destroyed, four were badly burned and two were severely water damaged. The building had to be bulldozed the ground cleared and was completely rebuilt under the Tahas supervision. During the week the units are used for English classes taught by Catholic Charities. On Friday’s Jummah prayer are held and on Saturday’s and Sunday’s there are classes for about eighty students of Qur’an, Arabic and Islamic Studies. The name Casa de Paz was chosen for the center because the neighborhood is forty percent Hispanic and was perfect for Dawa within the neighborhood.
Sister Taha explains “We want to be known in the neighborhood as true neighbors and not an isolated center for foreigners and are engaged in neighborhood activities and participate in opportunities to meet people around the neighborhood.”
Casa de Paz is comprised of two community rooms which are used as a masjid and classrooms to teach adults and children. There are also wudu areas and kitchen. Sister Taha eagerly pointed out the fig and grape trees planted in the back yard. Casa de Paz is entirely owned by the Tahas with four condominiums surrounding it, one on the first floor and three on the second floor. These are rented and the proceeds are used to offset the expenses for Casa de Paz.
Despite the enormous challenges and barriers encountered by sister Taha she is always optimistic that things will get better. Over the last decade she has built a strong relationship with Catholic Charities, Refugee Services of Texas and the International Rescue Committee. She welcomes all volunteers and has a wish list for a shoe rack, a Mini van for the Burmese community, a phone, fax and website for the Casa de Paz Center. She also is seeking assistance from an Attorney to register papers to establish Casa de Paz as a 501c3 tax deductible entity and will be grateful for some Physicians to attend to the illnesses of the refugees.
“The refugees are part of my extended family” says sister Taha “they are resilient and hard working and any assistance rendered by the surrounding Islamic Centers and Mosques is always welcome and well deserved.”
Dr. Taha ever present at his wife’s side comments that “We will continue with our mission at the Casa de Paz to provide refugees and other immigrants of the Dallas area with the tools that they need to lead independent, productive and dignified lives and to become contributing members of the Dallas Community.”
Aboobaker Ebrahim is a LLM graduate from Southern Methodist University School of Law.