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The 'Jewels of Islam'


By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (CBS) -- The Jewels of Islam is an network of more than 120 women that provides support for aging women across faiths.  It is believed to be one of the only Muslim women's outreach organizations for seniors in Pennsylvania.

"Anytime a person is in need, or if a person is sick, we get the word out," says Rafiqa Abdul Rasheed, who helped start the initiative in the basement of her home twenty-four years ago.  "We have a visiting committee where we visit our homebound and frail older adults."

The Jewels of Islam meets the second Sunday of each month at the Masjidullah, on Ogontz Avenue near 77th Avenue.

Over the years they have helped hundreds of women.  Rasheed, who works as a social gerontologist, says the Jewels help relieve the ladies of isolation and depression, and keep them active.

"It gives them something to look forward to," she says.  "It allows them to make friends and do new things with their lives."

Many of the sisters who receive help go back to school, they raise grandchildren and great-grands, and much more. Some even get to work, giving back.

"Being that I'm so well known, they call me," says Fatimah Melvina Ali, 83, a co-founder of Jewels of Islam.

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(Rafiqa Abdul Rasheed, left, and Fatimah Melvina Ali. Photos by Cherri Gregg)

Ali is knows as "the 24-hour sister" because she is on call for anyone in need, 24 hours a day.  Her age doesn't seem to stop her; in fact, it seems she works harder than people a decade younger.

"It doesn't matter to me who you are -- if I can assist you I will try," says Ali.  "At the end of the day, I ask myself, 'What did you do with the time that you had?'   I don't like wasting time."

Ali, who has been Muslim for more than sixty years, advocates for women, cooks for local shelters, visits facilities for seniors, and works across faiths.  But she doesn't watch TV -- she says she doesn't have time.

Ali says her goal for 2014 is to do more for youth.

"I am asking Allah to tell me what I can do to help them," she says, noting that she turns 84 this month. "I hope other people come on and join my bandwagon.  It really brings joy."

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