I’m writing this from Alabama, just after having attended the Religion News Association’s annual confab in Nashville. While visiting friends near Huntsville, I learned that hotels and motels on every nearby interstate are booked out with Florida refugees.
Also in mosques. Unlike church sanctuaries, which are filled with pews, mosques have wide open large carpeted spaces for worship that can easily be transformed into places where people can camp out. (Of course churches and synagogues have community or parish halls that can accommodate people but mosques can offer the actual worship space.)
The Tampa Bay Times managed to insert a bit of religion into this account:
TAMPA — For now it's their hurricane shelter, but Muslim rules about removing your shoes are still being observed at a makeshift shelter set up at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.
More than 500 people are planning to hunker down at the makeshift shelter set up at the mosque's multicultural center, which is now full. Most are Muslim, but the shelter was open to all people and is providing refuge for at least 50 non-Muslims, said Aida Mackic, a shelter organizer who is also the interfaith and youth program director with Council on American-Islamic Relations
Three large conference rooms are being used as the main sleeping quarters. One is for men, one for women, and there is a common area for families who want to remain together.
It's the first time, the Tampa paper said, that the newly built mosque has been used as a hurricane shelter. The Washington Post ran a piece about mosques in Atlanta as did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. WGCL, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, also ran a list of available mosques.
Were mosques getting better PR than other houses of worship? Synagogues didn’t get near as much ink, although the New York Times ran a piece about a Naples, Fla., synagogue offering shelter.
WXIA, Atlanta’s NBC affiliate, did a piece on mosques and synagogues offering shelter but said nothing about churches, a true mystery in that Atlanta is probably one of the more heavily churched cities in this country. That's a very interesting hole in this story.
I’d be interested to know if 2017 is the first year a number of mosques in the South have offered such shelter. Mashable.com did a piece on Houston mosques opening their doors while pointing out how megachurch superstar Joel Osteen gave plenty of excuses as to why his megachurch wasn’t taking on storm refugees.
Vox.com also spotlighted religious groups, especially Muslims, as being on the front line of help for Harvey victims with this piece:
After Hurricane Harvey hit Houston this past weekend, some organizations -- like megachurch pastor Joel Osteen's 16,800-seat Lakewood Church -- came under fire for not doing enough to help those displaced by the flooding, which has killed at least 46 as of Friday morning. But for other religious groups in the region, including several of the Houston area’s Muslim communities, Harvey was a call to solidarity -- and action.
One priest checked submerged cars to ensure no passengers were trapped inside. Jewish outreach organization Chabad House sent truckloads of food from New York and Miami. According to ThinkProgress’s Jack Jenkins, at least nine houses of worship in Houston, and several more outside the immediate Houston area, have opened their doors as shelters to afflicted residents or engaged in community outreach. Among them are the Woodlands Church, Salt and Light Ministries, and a number of mosques, including the Brand Lane Center in Stafford, Texas.
Muslim groups have been particularly visible in the Harvey relief effort. For example, the Council of Islamic American Relations called on Muslims to supplement their customary donations for the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Adha this week, with an equal donation for Harvey relief efforts.
While outlets like WTVY-TV in Dothan, Ala., listed secular and religious sites (mainly churches) as open to hurricane refugees, it seems as if mosques have gotten more attention -- perhaps as the new kid on the block.
What about the groups left out in the PR cold?
An obvious group -- if you know anything about relief efforts -- is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose numbers dwarf that of U.S. Muslims. I found a bit in the Deseret News about Mormons preparing for Irma but nothing about local stakes offering any shelter. Is it possible that few-to-none of them did?
That's a question worth asking along with the endless Osteen follow-ups.