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TMCNet:  Tulsa shelter helps abused Muslim women

[August 15, 2010]

Tulsa shelter helps abused Muslim women

Aug 15, 2010 (Tulsa World - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- She was pencil-thin and so weak from mental and physical abuse, she needed help getting up stairs.

Her husband kept her under video surveillance 24 hours a day, a virtual prisoner in her own home, and once held a knife to her throat.

This Jordanian woman found refuge in the Surayya Anne Foundation home, Tulsa's only Muslim women's shelter. She is now separated from her husband, who remains in Tulsa, and is back with her family in Jordan.

Since it opened in May 2009, the modest, three-bedroom, two-bath apartment in south Tulsa has housed 15 women, most of them Muslims, and their 10 children, some for a few days, others for a few months.

Some sought shelter because they were being abused by their husbands. Most were single mothers out of work who were evicted from their apartments. One was just released from prison and needed a place to live while she adjusted to life on the outside.

Volunteers from the Tulsa Muslim community support the women by taking them shopping or to doctors appointments, preparing food or providing baby-sitting. Rent, utilities and food are provided.

"We don't want a need to not be met," said Melek Oyludag, executive director and co-founder of the shelter.

"If we don't have the resources, we go find them." She said the shelter works closely with other social services agencies to provide needed services.

The Surayya Anne Foundation was named for a Turkish woman who established a network of women's shelters in Turkey.

From 2005 until 2007, Oyludag lived in Turkey, where she met that woman, and was inspired to do something similar in the United States.

"She built a phenomenal program," she said.

Oyludag said she and others who work with the women in the shelter are in a unique position to help them because they understand the differences between Islamic and Western cultures.

"We know how to be sensitive to these taboo areas," she said. "Some of these women come from a culture that doesn't talk about" domestic violence.

She said the shelter is a better place for Muslim women, because so many Christian-based shelters require church attendance or frown on Islam.

"We're different," she said. "We get to know them. It's like we're helping a family member." And the shelter is more conducive to Islamic prayer.

Tonie is in the shelter with her son because of her ongoing health problems.

"It's like being back in a two-parent family," she said, because two mothers help each other with the children, share chores and cook and eat together as one family.

Mary Al-Khaldi is house mother for the women. She lives in a nearby apartment and is available day and night to assist them. She also enforces a curfew, granting exceptions for such things as outside work and Ramadan evening prayers.

"It's great to be able to assist these ladies," she said.

Al-Khaldi said she was raised in a Pentecostal home in Oklahoma and converted to Islam 25 years ago. Her older brother abused her mother and was killed by her younger brother.

She married an Iraqi she described as a radical Muslim. "It took me 10 years to figure that out," she said.

"When he struck me when I was with child, I left him, but I didn't leave Islam." Board member Allison Moore said women in the shelter are required to work or go to school, unless they have just had a baby, and to set aside money in a savings account to help them get back on their feet when they leave the shelter.

She said the foundation is raising money to buy a four- to six-unit apartment complex that will enable it to expand its services to families in need, including husbands.

The current shelter operates on a $46,000 annual budget, most of it from the Tulsa Muslim community.

Bill Sherman 581-8398 bill.sherman@tulsaworld.com To see more of the Tulsa World, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.tulsaworld.com. Copyright (c) 2010, Tulsa World, Okla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com, e-mail services@mctinfoservices.com, or call 866-280-5210 (outside the United States, call +1 312-222-4544).

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