By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / July 16, 2015
A coalition of U.S. Muslim groups behind a fundraiser to rebuild black churches targeted with arson in the aftermath of the Charleston, South Carolina shooting say they are nearing their goal of raising $100,000.
The fundraiser launched on July 2 has raised nearly $90,000 and ends on Eid — the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, a Muslim holy month of fasting — at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning, organizers said.
Their initial goal was to raise $10,000 for the churches. But after the fundraiser went viral, the group increased that target to $100,000.
Although some questioned what Muslims were doing raising money for Christian churches, one of the organizers, Namira Islam, executive director of MuslimARC — a Muslim anti-racism group — said the impetus to help came largely because of the racist nature of the attacks. UmmahWide, a Muslim digital media startup, and the Arab American Association of New York, a group aimed at empowering Arab Americans, also helped organize the fundraiser.
The church burnings across the South occurred in the weeks following the killing of nine African Americans in a Charleston church by a self-professed white supremacist.
Fires at four black churches across the South were determined to be arson attacks, Islam said. At least four other black churches caught fire, but they were apparently the result of natural causes, including lightning.
“We’re in a state of shock,” Brandon Reeves, a member of God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, said on July 9. The church, founded by his great-grandmother, Lillie Powell, was destroyed by fire on June 23. “With all these other churches in flames, I can’t help but think it might have been a hate crime.”
“Helping a church burned down out of hate is something we need to take action on,” Islam said. “Raising money was one tangible way of doing that.”
Muslims have faced similar discrimination in the U.S. as blacks, although African Americans have undoubtedly experienced more racism and racist violence than American Muslims, the Muslim coalition said on the LaunchGood fundraiser page.
In addition to challenges the groups both face in the U.S. today, Christians and Muslims have an intertwined history, Islam said.
“In the time of the prophet (Muhammed), peace be upon him, there was a really strong history of Muslims working with Christians very closely — some of the first Muslims were sent to seek shelter under a Christian king in Ethiopia,” Islam said. “That connection has always been there.”
Islam said the coalition has reached out to two of the four churches targeted by arson attacks: College Hill Seventh Day Adventist in Knoxville, Tennessee, and God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia. The coalition hopes to help rebuild the churches with money from the fundraiser.
The groups hope to distribute the money they raised next week, Islam said, and have reached out to another campaign that is raising money — the Christ Church Cathedral campaign — to figure out the best way to help all four of the churches burned in arson attacks.
Leaders from the targeted churches have been “really, really gracious,” Islam said.
“They were really just pleased hearing about the fundraiser and we really talked and connected over the fact that mosques have also been the targets of arson as well,” Islam said.
Islam said she hopes the campaign will lead to more interfaith cooperation between Muslims and Christians in the U.S., especially in the face of hateful attacks on places of worship.
“It is a new chapter, and we’re excited to move forward and make new relationships and have a greater sense of connection with each other,” Islam said.
With wire services