TORONTO – Muslim helplines in Canada have been overwhelmed with calls coming from American Muslims over the past months, a phenomenon expected to further increase after Donald Trump inauguration day.
“Sixteen thousand calls have come in, but we haven’t answered that 100 percent,” Yaseen Poonah, the founder of Naseeha, told NBC News on Wednesday, January 18.
“Our success rate is far less than that because a lot of calls come outside of our operating hours.”
Naseeha, the Toronto-area helpline has received a little more than 16,000 calls in 2016, a sharp increase from the 4,000 received in 2015.
According to Poonah, most of Naseeha’s callers are from the US.
Naseeha, which means “advice” in Arabic, operates from Monday to Friday from 6 pm to 9 pm Eastern time.
However, many callers tried to access the helpline outside work hours, especially from cities like Vancouver or Los Angeles, who are in Pacific time.
“That’s where we’re overwhelmed because we want to access a lot of those calls that we’re missing,” he said.
Naseeha is not the only helpline overwhelmed by fearful Muslim calls.
NISA Helpline, a phone line geared toward Muslim women, which offer toll-free and confidential service across North America, has also seen increase in the number of people seeking advice.
Tanweer Ebrahim, the director of the Vancouver-based NISA helpline, which means “women” in Arabic, said her counselors are also dealing with significantly more callers.
Ebrahim said calls went up from 3579 in 2015 to close to 4500 in 2016, adding that the helpline saw a 3 to 4 percent increase in callers post-election.
Many of the callers were Muslim women concerned about Trump’s statements about Muslims.
“We have mothers fearing for the treatment of their children in school. And overall, they’re worried for the future of their children with a Trump presidency,” Ebrahim told NBC News.
“From university students, we also had a call about Republican clubs being formed that had legislation endorsing the white supremacist movement and establishing fear amongst Muslim students,” she added.
“Those are the major concerns from callers.”
Expecting a sharp increase in the calls after the Inauguration Day, both Poonah and Ebrahim urged support when it comes to funding and getting more counsellors to volunteer their time to help.
“Looking at the increasing volume of calls we’ve received since our launch, there is a need,” Ebrahim said.
“We would be very pleased not to miss any calls, but, there are certain times and days where the influx of calls is just enormous.”
To prepare for Inauguration Day, Naseeha is looking for other ways to offer a lending hand. Poonah said his team is currently gathering a list of different organizations and resources in the US they can direct callers to.
“Although we’re first-line support, we might not have answers for everything,” he said.
“We want to make sure that they are partnered up with the right people.”
These helplines are providing an essential service for Muslims.
“Whether it’s Muslim youth or any youth, it’s our contribution to society and it’s what our religion teaches us: to help others with what you want for yourself,” Poonah said.
“Trust is a big element. They’re calling a mental health line that’s not only based on their ethnic and religious values. They’re talking to a peer who’s between 18 to 35,” he added, referring to Naseeha helpline which was formed in 2006.
For Ebrahim, overseeing the NISA helpline, which was launched in 2014, remains one of her biggest passions.
“Through the helpline, I really get to know the grassroots issues many of the women are facing — things that you might not hear when talking to someone face-to-face,” she said.
She tells people to stay strong against Islamaphobia and encourages them to not be afraid of being themselves and to get help when they need it.
“Be nice to others and educate others through actions and good deeds,” she said.
“At NISA helpline, we are here to advise and give resources and information about other organizations and support out there. Trust yourself, be who you are as a Muslim. Be prepared and educate yourself.”