Local Islamic community devotes night of prayer to Aleppo

This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Civil Defense workers and Syrian citizens inspecting damaged buildings after airstrikes hit in Darat Izza town, in rural western Aleppo province, Syria, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. Despite a halt in airstrikes in eastern Aleppo city, there has been an intense aerial bombing campaign in the western Aleppo countryside and nearby Idlib province. Rebels say the strikes are an attempt to sever the supply lines of the rebels, waging an offensive on government-held western Aleppo. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Friday night members of the local Islamic community gathered to pray for the families suffering in Syria. The front doors were open at the Islamic Center of Greater Austin for the first organized prayer for Aleppo.

“The power of prayer is one of the most powerful things we have as Muslims,” said Kareem Abdi, who organized the event. “For us, praying for other people — we know it’s in God’s hands, and that it will help those people in need.”

The prayer was led by World Renowned Qari Mohamed Jebri.

“He’s kind of the Billy Graham of the Muslims,” said Imam Mohamed Shakib scrolling through pictures on his phone showing millions of people outside a mosque in Egypt. “Everywhere he goes he pulls a lot of traffic.”

Imam Shakib helped translate the message in Arabic recited from the Quran.

“He chose the verses tonight to remind people it’s all about humanity, and how God chose all of us.”

Tarek Tousson came to pray with his wife and three children ages seven to 14.

“We will hope for the good of the people to save their souls, and a better life for them,” said Tousson. “And also save their families over there, and for people who came here to Austin.”

Syria’s civil war, which has lasted nearly six years, led to the deaths of an estimated 500,000 people, and sent millions fleeing the country. Since Dec. 15, more than 34,000 people have been evacuated from the Aleppo-area.

The Texas Refugee Program

Last year, the Texas Refugee Program took in nearly 16,000 immigrants. Of those, more than 7,000 people were considered refugees, or someone unwilling to return to their country because of persecution or fear of persecution. Those refugees came from a total of 43 countries with the highest number from Burma, also called Myanmar.

The second-highest total came from Iraq. Most of the immigrants, nearly 7,000, resettled in Harris County. More than 2,000 people resettled in Travis County.

The state has been taking in more people through the refugee program in recent years. In 2014, the state’s refugee program took in a little less than 13,000 refugees, which is nearly a quarter more than the previous year.

One man attending the Austin prayer service works for a non-profit helping refugees being relocated locally. These groups say they need help now that the state officially withdrew from the resettlement program. It changed the way federal dollars are distributed to refugee families.