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‘Respond to Hate With Love’: Muslim Organizations Raise Thousands to Benefit Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Victims

4 minute read

As Pittsburgh continues to reel from a tragic weekend, a Muslim-led effort has begun a crowdfunded campaign to raise money for the victims of Saturday’s synagogue shooting.

Posted on LaunchGood, a Muslim-focused crowdfunding site, the effort aims to help support the short-term needs of victims and their families by raising money for medical bills, funeral costs and other expenses after a gunman stormed services at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, killing 11 and wounding 6 before being captured by police.

The charity drive has already been a success, with organizers claiming to have raised an average of $2,000 per hour since launching the effort on Saturday. Within six hours, the campaign had already reached its initial goal of $25,000. In less than 24 hours, it had broken $50,000.

Two Muslim-led nonprofits, CelebrateMercy and MPower Change, organized the fundraising drive in partnership with the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life Synagogue, which will work together to distribute the funds to victims and their families.

Tarek El-Messidi, the founding director of CelebrateMercy, says the effort is part of his group’s larger belief in responding to hatred with acts of goodness.

“We recognize that the money can’t bring back loved ones that [families] have lost so tragically, nor can it physically heal any of the wounds,” El-Messidi told TIME. “But we do hope the money can in some way lift their spirits, lift the burdens of funeral expenses and medical costs.”

For those Pittsburgh Muslims closer to the tragedy, the effort is also simply about helping neighbors and rebuilding their community.

“Those who were stolen from us by this hateful person were like family,” says Wasi Mohamed, the Executive Director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and Emgage Pennsylvania, a nonprofit Muslim advocacy organization. “We feel obligated to follow this Prophetic tradition on standing up for the Jewish community.”

“The Pittsburgh Muslim Community extends our deepest sympathy and condolences to the victims, their families, and all of our Jewish brothers and sisters,” the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh said in a statement. “We condemn this hate crime unequivocally, and denounce all forms of hatred and bigotry. The Pittsburgh community is our family; what happens to one of us, is felt by us all.”

Mohamed added that local Muslims have also pledged to support the Jewish community in non-monetary ways during this difficult period, offering trips to the grocery store, protection during services or help with other needs.

For El-Messidi, the past few years have not been an easy time to be an American Muslim, which is all the more reason to reach out to others in their times of need.

“For one community that’s feeling threatened to reach out to another community that’s also feeling threatened… hopefully it will inspire other people around the country and around the world to engage in similar action,” he said.

This latest fundraiser is only the latest of CelebrateMercy’s outreach efforts, which they say are inspired by the teachings and life of the Prophet Mohamed. Following the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, the group organized a campaign for Muslims from around the world to write condolence letters to the family of slain Ambassador Chris Stevens. In the end, they helped send 7,700 letters from Muslims in 115 countries. The group has also raised hundred of thousands of dollars to benefit the San Bernardino shooting victims in 2015, and to repair vandalized Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia in 2017.

“If there’s a silver lining related to this tragedy, it’s that [the Muslim and Jewish] communities that have not worked that closely together are starting a dialogue,” says El-Messidi. “For the first time they’re able to put aside… geopolitics or international politics and really work together for a human cause.”

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Write to Alejandro de la Garza at alejandro.delagarza@time.com