Coalition of Muslim Groups Raises $100K for Burned Black Churches

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July 17, 2015; AOL.com

A series of chain reactions has followed the tragic shooting with multiple fatalities at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. Discussion over the Confederate Flag erupted on South Carolina’s capitol and beyond. Gun control was once again a hot button topic, whether the shooting could sway opinions or not. There were also a string of arsons at black churches around the country, though others report some of the fires may have started naturally. Regardless of the circumstances of the fires, the Muslim community has come together to raise funds for these churches following the end of their holy month of Ramadan, a period marked by piety, prayer, and charity.

A coalition of Muslim community groups initiated a fundraiser with the platform Launch Good, beginning July 2nd and running through the month of Ramadan to end on July 18th, Eid al-Fitr, a celebratory holiday. While the initial goal was set at $10,000, once the campaign went viral, the goal was increased to $100,000, which it since has surpassed. According to the campaign, among those that are part of the coalition are such organizations as the Muslim Anti-Racist Collaborative, the Arab Association of New York, and Ummah Wide.

One of the organizers of the fundraiser, Namira Islam, the executive director of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, indicated the impetus behind the campaign was what was believed to be the racist intent behind the church burnings. While it is yet unclear to what extent the fires were intentional (one in particular is believed to have resulted from a lightning strike), the coalition fundraiser falls in line with month-long efforts during Ramadan by Muslims to refocus their damaged image in the face of the barbarity of ISIS, lone religious fanatics such as the Tsarnaev brothers who committed the Boston Marathon bombing, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and most recently the shooting at Chattanooga that took place on the Muslim holiday.

“It’s Ramadan, and we are experiencing firsthand the beauty and sanctity of our mosques during this holy month,” said the campaign. “All houses of worship are sanctuaries, a place where all should feel safe, a place we can seek refuge when the world is too much to bear. We are calling on you to help add our support to faith communities across the country pooling their resources to rebuild these churches. There has not been anywhere near the amount of resources needed to rebuild these churches. The time is now, let’s unite to help our sisters and brothers in faith.”

(As a disclaimer, I grew up in a traditional Muslim household and, and although I am no longer religious, I can attest firsthand to the giving nature of the religion. Violence is indeed an anomaly, as it is in most mainstream religions. Charity, or “zakat,” is one of the five pillars of Islam, which includes praying five times a day and fasting for Ramadan to experience humility.)

Unfortunately, Islamophobia is pervasive in America and abroad. One need look no further than the comments on the AOL.com article NPQ has referenced for this piece. The first and most popular comment on the article reads, “Don’t accept the money [from the fundraiser]. It is a ruse, a ploy to confuse and further spread Islam in America.”

Gallup has charted the rise and frequency of Islamophobia in the West since the terrorist attacks on September 11th. Of course, such sentiments existed prior to the attack, but have increased exponentially since. According to Gallup’s report with data from 2010, Muslims are 48 percent more likely to say they have experienced discrimination than members of other religions. The same report indicated that even among those Americans who said they had no prejudice against Muslims, one-third still said they had negative views about Islam.

Whether those viewing the campaign consider it to be coming from a genuine place or not, the nonprofit sector must recognize the importance of the coalition’s work in fundraising against hate and educating against prejudice. The nonprofit sector has the tools and the influence to combat prejudice. Other religiously oriented nonprofits joining the coalition or expanding the campaign could have an impact in battling Islamophobia.—Shafaq Hasan