In the wake of the recent string of fires that have destroyed predominantly black churches across the South, a number of Muslim organizations have come together in an effort to help rebuild.
According to Al Jazeera America, the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, the Arab American Association of New York and the digital startup Ummah Wide are the principal organizations spearheading the effort to raise money for the benefit of the destroyed Christian churches by using the crowdfunding website LaunchGood.
“Its Ramadan, and we are experiencing firsthand the beauty and sanctity of our mosques during this holy month,” the three organizations said in a statement on LaunchGood. “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.”
According to LaunchGood, the three organizations have raised over $30,000 since the page first launched on July 2.
“As Muslims we know the importance of protecting the vulnerable and respecting people who call on God in their various tongues,” the statement continued. “We want for others what we want for ourselves: the right to worship without intimidation, the right to safety and the right to property.”
Eight churches have reportedly been lost to fires in the South. Four of the eight churches have been ruled arson and are being investigated. Three others are being investigated for possible arson.
Still, as The Huffington Post’s Carol Kuruvilla reported, the image of predominantly black churches burning has been especially painful for many in the black community in light of the recent shooting in South Carolina.
"It doesn't matter to us how or why these churches burned down, we want to help our black sisters and brothers get back in to their houses of worship as soon as they can," Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, told The Huffington Post.
"Ramadan is a time of giving and what better cause to give to than one that rebuilds houses of worship where God's name is constantly called, remembered and loved," Sarsour said.
The initiative was started by Faatimah Knight, who reached out to her Muslim friends and acquaintances to try and help black churches that had been destroyed by fire. She had no idea at the time how much they could collect and how much organizational support was going to back her up.
Ms Knight’s campaign followed a smaller, more modest enterprise she had set in motion in the days after the shooting dead of nine people at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17. She and some friends wanted to gather $500 to send flowers; they ended up raising $900.
And when she and the same friends read about the series of churches that were burned down and the probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, they similarly wanted to act. At least three of the fires were said to have been arson - with fears they may have been destroyed by people disgruntled by moves against the Confederate flag.
A number of Muslim organisations responded to her call, including the three mentioned above, but she said people of other faiths had also donated.
Ms Knight, a Masters student at the Chicago Theological Seminary, said of her acquaintances some people had questioned the campaign and asked why she was raising money for Christian houses of worship, as opposed to a Muslim cause. But most were supportive.
She said Islam taught of the need to protect the weak and vulnerable. She said while the black Christian communities of the South might not be weak, they were vulnerable.
“I’m a black person and I do identify with the wider black community at that level,” she said. “Historically, the black community has been vulnerable.”
She added: “Traditionally, when we have been on our best behaviour, we have created space for other faiths, and let people worship as they see fit.”
“It's Ramadan and we are experiencing firsthand the beauty and sanctity of our mosques during this holy month,” Imam Zaid Shakir, a Muslim American scholar, says on the campaign page. “ALL houses of worship are sanctuaries."
Mr. Shakir says that there has not been anywhere near the amount of resources amassed to help rebuild the churches.
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