When unexpected kindness offers hope

The acts of humanity by Muslims in Pittsburgh brought to the fore the tolerant face of Islam often overshadowed by radical and bigoted interpretations of the faith.
Sunday 04/11/2018
Show of unity. Ayanna Pressley (L), Afiyah Harrigan (C) and Harvard Muslim Chaplain Khalil Abdur-Rashid attend a vigil  for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, on  October 30. 						             (AFP)
Show of unity. Ayanna Pressley (L), Afiyah Harrigan (C) and Harvard Muslim Chaplain Khalil Abdur-Rashid attend a vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, on October 30. (AFP)

Americans were again traumatised by a senseless and dramatic mass shooting on October 27, this time during services at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The list of mass gun violence in the United States seems never-ending. Places such as Newtown, Connecticut; Orlando, Florida; San Bernardino, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and now Pittsburgh. Most Americans cannot keep up with the names and places and sadly have almost come to accept that it is just a matter of time until they hear again that another mass shooter has brought death and injury to many.

At such terrible times, it is hard to find the good but it is difficult to miss it when it happens. The actions in Pittsburgh by the Muslim community bring the good from an awfully tragic event. Both the Pittsburgh Islamic Centre’s Executive Director Wasi Mohamed and the founder of the Muslim group Celebrate Mercy Tarek el-Messidi stepped forward in a big way in words and action.

Messidi’s organisation started on online campaign to raise $25,000 to help the victims. The fund exceeded that goal within six hours. The goal was increased to $50,000 and again, exceeded. By the end of October, Celebrate Mercy had raised more than $100,000 to help the victims of the shootings at the synagogue.

Messidi led two very visible campaigns in the last two years following mass desecration and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Saint Louis and Philadelphia to help clean-up and repair of graves.

Mohamed offered the services of mosque members to guard the synagogue, provide food for families of victims, go shopping for them, most anything they needed to help through the crisis.

It comes as a surprise to many that there is any type of cooperation between Muslims and Jews in America. While the examples are not lengthy, I have personally been witness to the role Jews played in Philadelphia and other places when Muslims purchased land to build a mosque and neighbours objected, citing “concerns of having a mosque in their neighbourhood.”

If there was any group of people that stood arm-and-arm with Muslims in those situations, it was quite often Jews, who never forgot the many years in 20th-century America during which it was the Jews who were prevented from buying land for synagogues or from entering certain universities, becoming victims of bias by law firms or private clubs that refused admittance to Jews.

It might be unexpected that in these days of grim bloodshed that a Muslim group in Pennsylvania would stand up for the well-being of Jews targeted by a hateful anti-Semitic shooter. The fact that many Americans did not expect these acts of humanity and kindness from leaders and members of Celebrate Mercy and the Islamic Centre of Pittsburgh shows how preset notions and stereotypes about Muslims and their attitudes towards Jews have lowered our expectations. They should not have.

The acts of humanity by Muslims in Pittsburgh brought to the fore the tolerant face of Islam often overshadowed by radical and bigoted interpretations of the faith.

There is hope that these types of efforts at mutual respect and cooperation continue to bridge the divide that has so often come between the two communities based on old and new prejudices and on the inescapable ramifications of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with its violence and bloodshed.

Goodwill between Jews and Muslims can only pave the way for understanding and peace in the Middle East and the rest of the world.

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