Repel Evil By That Which Is Better

From the first Muslim ban, the same spirit of unity from two groups who've both been there. Pittsburgh photo on front by Aaron Jackendoff/Getty Images

Modelling the humanity, comity and grace of which our leaders seem incapable, Pittsburgh's Muslim community has opened their hearts and wallets to the families of Tree of Life victims in order to "respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action." By Monday night, they had raised almost $1 million via two crowdfunding efforts: Donations of over $740,000 at one, begun by an Iranian student at Arizona State University, are earmarked to cover the costs of refurbishing the synagogue and "respond to this hateful act with your act of love"; the other, created by Muslim nonprofits CelebrateMercy and MPower Change in partnership with the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, had raised over $160,000 to cover families' funeral costs, medical bills and other short-term expenses. Many of the donations on both sites were made in increments of $18, a number representing the Hebrew symbol "chai," or life.

The leaders of the Muslim effort, part of a broader interfaith response in Pittsburgh, quote the Quran for inspiration: "Repel evil by that which is better." Having fund-raised for other projects - to support San Bernardino shooting victims, to repair vandalized Jewish cemeteries in other cities - they recognize money cannot bring back loved ones, but for families they hope it can "lift their spirits (and) the burdens" of expenses. Above all, they want to respond to hatred with acts of goodness in what remains a close community: With the Islamic Center just minutes from the Tree of Life, says its Executive Director Wasi Mohamed, "Those who were stolen from us (were) like family." Muslim leaders also cite an ancient theme of unity and tolerance in the example of the Prophet Muhammad: When questioned why he stood to pay respects to a passing Jewish funeral, he reportedly replied, "Is it not a human soul?" Echoing that sensibility, Muslim leaders have likewise poignantly offered victims other kinds of support, from rides to protection during services. Whatever, they say: "We'll be there."

Photo by Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"We just want to know what you need ... If it's people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We'll be there." pic.twitter.com/D2UyNzBFHx

— NBC News (@NBCNews) October 29, 2018

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