Faisal Qazi had no idea the shooters who massacred 14 people in San Bernardino last week were Muslims, like himself. The Pomona-based neurologist only knew that the victims and their families were his Inland Empire neighbors, and his faith obligated him to help.
Qazi started small, hoping to raise $20,000 through his health nonprofit. But Islamic scholars and leaders urged him to broaden the effort – especially after it was revealed that the assailants were Muslims -- and the campaign quickly became the most successful crowd-funding venture Muslim Americans have ever launched for the broader community.
In just four days, the Muslims United for San Bernardino campaign has raised more than $100,000 from more than 1,000 donors across the country, including in Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The money will be disbursed through San Bernardino County and the United Way to assist victims' families with funeral expenses and other needs, Qazi said.
"The American Muslim community has had extensive and intense conversations in the last decade about our role in society," said Qazi, 41. "What you're seeing is the coming of a new generation of American Muslims being emotionally and physically invested in whatever transpires in society."
The crowd-funding website itself is a case in point. LaunchGood was started two years ago by Chris Blauvelt, a Detroit resident who converted to Islam three months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"After 9/11, we had a rude awakening," Blauvelt said. "We realized we had to do more than get good jobs as doctors and engineers and buy houses in the suburbs. We have to give back to the communities we live in, the American community."
So far, LaunchGood has raised $5 million for 473 projects in 39 countries, with Muslim Americans accounting for 80% of the donations. The campaigns include raising money to help rebuild African American churches burned in Charleston this year and to support students interested in science and technology after the arrest of a Muslim teen in Texas for bringing a clock to school.
But the San Bernardino campaign has far outstripped those efforts, Blauvelt said. Donations are coming in at a rate of $1,000 an hour – 100 times faster than LaunchGood's typical crowd-funding campaign.
The biggest boost came when the campaign was endorsed by the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, which represents 78 mosques and Muslim organizations. Shakeel Syed, the council's executive director, said donors hope to raise $250,000 in what will dwarf previous fundraising efforts, including $10,000 for the Orange County Fire Department nearly a decade ago after wildfires in the Carlsbad area.
Several leading Islamic scholars also pitched the campaign in their Friday sermons last week.
"Since 9/11, we've felt we need to come out of our cocoons," said Shaykh Mohammed Faqih of the Islamic Institute of Orange County. "We're as American as anyone else … but if society is not feeling it, it means I'm not doing enough."
Donors include Marya Ayloush, a 20-year-old student at Santa Monica Community College who gave $50 after seeing the campaign posted on Facebook. "This is an actual, tangible action we can do to show non-Muslims that we have your back," she said. "In every situation where the terrorist happens to be a Muslim, every person, whether they admit it or not, is afraid they'll be lumped in with these guys."
Her parents and her faith taught her that donating to others helps purify yourself, she said, and growing up in Corona near San Bernardino gave her a special feeling of closeness to the families. "Those families almost feel like neighbors, and they cannot go unassisted," she said.
Across the country, Qudsia Raja, a Washington, D.C., domestic violence counselor for the YWCA USA, said she gave not so much because she's a Muslim. She said she has a special passion for helping victims of violence – she also donated following the murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
"This really hit me hard," Raja said. "It didn't happen in my backyard, and I didn't know how to engage being so far away. But I felt I had to do something…. it was so horrific."
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