Edmonds College student started an education center for Afghan refugees in his garage | The Seattle Times

The House of Wisdom, one of the biggest libraries that emerged during the Islamic Golden Age in A.D. 830, made a resurgence in a Lynnwood garage. 

Before it was destroyed in the Siege of Baghdad in 1258, the library was a place for people from all faiths, ethnicities and languages to gather and share writings about various topics, including philosophy, science and translations. 

For two years now, a Seattle-area man has been working to re-create it, offering instruction and support for local refugees and immigrants adjusting to life in Washington. 

Ahmad Hilal Abid was born into an educated family in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December 2000. He was a “special child” with an eye for community service and an ability to lead, which he exercised during school classes. But his country was under Taliban threat. After two of his uncles died and his dad went to the U.S. as a refugee, security was scarce. Abid was pulled from school as he entered his early teenage years. 

Abid said he was a prisoner in his own house, unable to go outside to stretch his legs. Around 15 years old, his dad secured visas for his mom and siblings, but the U.S. Embassy did not grant Abid one. It took some time and flexibility, but Abid reunited with his family in Seattle in February 2018. 

Abid started small with his community service. He attended different churches and multifaith events, talking to leaders and community members in Lynnwood. He didn’t speak much English at the time, but he wanted to help out. 

He began taking English lessons from Edmonds College and got involved with Lynnwood’s growing Afghan refugee and immigrant population, which led him to the five families whose children became his first students. 

“They said, ‘We want to have our children with you, so they can learn something from you,’” Abid said.

In August 2020, he began holding classes in the garage of his family home. The news quickly spread through word-of-mouth and class sizes grew to almost 30 students from ages 7-16. Eventually, Abid needed more space. Today, classes are held in a rented unit in a Lynnwood professional building.

Abid helped his students with English, their classwork and multicultural education, but also organized soccer tournaments and community gatherings. The classes offered a safe space for both Abid and the students alike, all trying to adapt to a country they were still new to. 

“You just came to a new country,” Abid explained. “You’re struggling with so many problems.” 

Classes at the House of Wisdom are full and there are prospective students on a waitlist. But Abid hopes the organization’s expansion will fill the need. Events are funded by Ahmad, but parent and community volunteers help out, providing things like food and drinks and other material support.

Refugees and immigrants often need help in their new country, especially if they were unable to bring many belongings with them. This is the case for the recent surge of refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine into Washington, said Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest, which provides services like affordable housing, immigration status assistance, employment services, education and translation to migrants, refugees and immigrants in Snohomish, Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan and Island counties. 

In a normal year, Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest helps about 2,500 people. But Dinh-Kuno said 2022 is not a normal year: The organization has already aided more than 3,000 people in the last seven months. About 400 Afghan refugees have received help from the organization, especially with housing and immigration status.

“You come in as a foreigner and have to go through a lot of hoops,” Dinh-Kuno said. 

Making the House of Wisdom a community resource center is one of Abid’s goals.

He has used his own money and car to provide services like dropping off goods to community members; he started teaching young students because he was asked to and because he wants to continue providing people with things they need. But Abid needs support. Nadia Mustafa is helping wherever she can. 

Mustafa, 51, is a member of the Bothell Library Advisory Board who immigrated to the U.S. from Pakistan in 1994 and moved to Washington in 2001. Like Abid, she has a passion for her community, and she recognized the same emotions and ambitions in the young community organizer when they met last year.

House of Wisdom


“He is doing exactly what I wanted to do,” Mustafa said of Abid. “I told him, ‘If you want to see the change in your people, if you want to see them living a better life, the only way you can do it is by bringing the change yourself.’” 

For his efforts, Abid was awarded the President’s Student Civic Leadership Award from Edmonds College and was one of three recipients of the Governor’s Student Civic Leadership Award from the office of Gov. Jay Inslee. 

Mustafa encouraged Abid to pursue a law degree — he finished his associate degree earlier this year — and has introduced him to various community leaders to help build relationships. She even helped pay rent for a family in need when Abid told her about their struggles. 


And through it all, Mustafa has pushed Abid to remember that the House of Wisdom he wants to create will be open to all people. 

After the House of Wisdom outgrew the garage, Abid tore up the floors and walls of his rented Lynnwood unit to remodel into a space suitable for the House. The new location made it possible to expand classes and diversify lessons to include the use of social media, gender studies and multifaith education. 

Abid is also building out the House’s board of directors, including Mustafa. With help from 501 Commons, Abid registered the House of Wisdom as a 501 nonprofit organization in July with the Washington Secretary of State. 

Abid’s dream also expanded to include people from different backgrounds. Steven Torres, a close friend, is helping Abid connect with and help Latino communities in Lynnwood.

House of Wisdom

Torres, 26, plans to host open hours at the House of Wisdom to help people apply for English-learning courses. As someone who arrived in the U.S. from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, knowing no English, Torres knows how difficult it is to navigate a country he couldn’t understand.

Like Abid, Torres learned English through Edmonds College and now works as an office assistant for the English Language Acquisition department there.

“Language is the first barrier,” Torres said. “If you don’t speak the language of the country you live in, people can barely have success.”

Torres moved to the U.S. almost seven years ago. Like other immigrants, he faced culture shock — and language was just a part of it. He had to learn English by himself, so he wants to ease the way for others. Joining the House of Wisdom is a way to do that. 

More than anything, Abid wants his homegrown House of Wisdom to become a space available for everyone to share knowledge and ideas about the world that will create a better future. Like its namesake, he wants to build the biggest library, resource and educational center — one that is open to everybody. 

“As a human being, I have the feeling to help people,” he said.

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