Pittsburgh Muslims rally in support of Jewish terror victims

By the end of October, the campaign, Muslims United for Pittsburgh Synagogue, had raised nearly $220,000 from 5,300 donors.
Sunday 04/11/2018
Standing together. People arrive to pay their respects in front of a memorial outside of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, on October 28. 							    (AFP)
Standing together. People arrive to pay their respects in front of a memorial outside of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, on October 28. (AFP)

WASHINGTON - The killing of 11 Jews in a synagogue prompted an extraordinary outpouring of support from Muslims in Pittsburgh, the US city where the shootings occurred.

An online fundraising campaign initiated by the leader of Pittsburgh’s largest mosque shattered its original goals and Muslims have stood with the city’s Jewish population, expressing sympathy and solidarity.

“We will be there for them in any way we can,” Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Centre of Pittsburgh, told ABC News. “Not just this week but next week, the next month and then next year. We want to make sure that we keep these relationships.”

The campaign, Muslims United for Pittsburgh Synagogue, sought to raise $25,000 when it was established hours after the shooting October 27. By the end of October, it had raised nearly $220,000 from 5,300 donors. The money is to go to families of those killed to pay medical bills, funeral expenses and other immediate costs.

“We wish to respond to evil with good as our faith instructs us and send a powerful message of compassion through action,” campaign organisers wrote on the fundraising home page. “We hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate and violence in America. We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event.”

Another internet fundraising campaign, begun by a 29-year-old Iranian refugee who is a graduate student in Washington, raised $1 million from 16,200 donors.

The Muslim community’s outpouring highlighted the close relations between Muslims and Jews in Pittsburgh, a diverse city of 300,000 people. Pittsburgh has a well-established Jewish community and a growing Muslim population.

The camaraderie contrasted to hostility that many in Pittsburgh expressed towards US President Donald Trump when they urged him not to visit the city. Many blamed his sharp rhetoric against immigrants for creating an environment that encouraged attacks against minority religious and ethnic groups.

The accused shooter, Robert Bowers, who lives in a Pittsburgh suburb, was charged with storming into the Tree of Life Synagogue at the start of a religious ceremony, allegedly firing handguns and a rifle and yelling that he wanted to “kill Jews.” Bowers posted on a public website anti-Semitic and racist rants and compared Jews to Satan.

The attack, in which 11 people died and seven others were injured, was the deadliest on a Jewish site in US history. Bowers was charged with killing worshippers ranging in age from 54 to 97.

Rabbi James Gibson of the Temple Sinai Synagogue in Pittsburgh said he had worked at developing bonds with the city’s Muslim leaders.

“We talk religion. We don’t talk politics as much,” Gibson said in an interview on CNN as he stood next to Mohamed, “but we all understand we have a fierce attachment to our monotheistic points of view and there are so many more things that our religions have in common than divide us. History may have divided us but faith brings us together.”

Mohamed told CNN that members of his mosque called and sent text messages asking how they could help as soon as they learnt about the shooting. Mohamed and other Muslim leaders went to the synagogue the day of the shooting and joined in an interfaith vigil the next day.

Some people thought the fundraising campaign was a scam, Mohamed said, and that “we just have all this money and the Muslims are going to pocket it because there’s no possible way we could love the Jewish community like we do.”

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, residents of Pittsburgh rallied behind the city’s Muslims and offered to help with expenses and errands, Mohamed said.

Flight 93, the fourth airliner hijacked that day, crashed in south-western Pennsylvania, less than 130km from Pittsburgh, after passengers tried to retake control of the plane from the hijackers.