A Muslim-led U.S. fundraising campaign has raised nearly $500,000 to offer small grants to low-income American families whose livelihoods have been battered by the pandemic. Checks of $250 to $1,000 have been sent to more than 660 U.S. households, benefiting 2,100 individuals of all religions and those with no religious belief at all.
The initiative began March 14 on the Muslim fundraising site LaunchGood.com organized by Islamic nonprofit CelebrateMercy, Penny Appeal USA, and the Islamic Center at New York University.
“We want the country to know that we are a vital organ to society, even though often Muslims are being portrayed as somewhat of a tumor to society,” said Tarek El-Messidi, director of CelebrateMercy, a nonprofit that teaches about the Prophet Muhammad’s life and is known for raising money for vandalized Jewish cemeteries, Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims and parents detained in immigrant jails.
“The Prophet Mohammed said the most beloved people to God are those who benefit others most,” El-Messi explained. “Knowing that so many millions were going to lose jobs, to struggle to make ends meet, to pay for childcare, rent, bills, we felt it was an immediate need and we wanted to help as many people as possible.”
In the past two weeks, nearly 10 million people filed for unemployment benefits, overwhelming states’ employment systems.
With unemployment checks still weeks away, Muslim organizers rushed LaunchGood checks to applicants — prioritized based on a need-based point system — within days of receiving applicants’ requests. El-Messidi said donations came from more than 3,700 individual donors after receiving 2,000 requests from families all over America — more than 100 applications a day.
New York City has felt that need acutely, said Imam Khalid Latif of ICNYU which, along with PennyAppeal, distributed 5,000 face masks to New York City hospitals.
“Funeral homes are running on empty, and some are contacting us to ask if we can help purchase more vehicles or send volunteers to help prepare the bodies for the funeral,” Latif said.
In New York City, members of Muslims Giving Back are bringing meals, donated by Muslim-owned food trucks and restaurants.
American Muslims’ generosity is even more striking since many mosques and Muslim families have suffered from the pandemic. Ramadan, Muslims’ holy month of fasting and charity work, begins Thursday. Traditionally, money raised at Ramadan Friday prayer services and celebratory suppers help pay for mosque salaries and micro-loans to aid struggling congregation members.
Muslims often pay their annual zakat, an obligatory tithe in proportion to one’s wealth, in Ramadan.
With Ramadan offerings jeopardized, four prominent Muslim American leaders raised $155,000 as an emergency stopgap to maintain mosque staffers’ income. Mosques and Islamic centers can apply for one-time grants ranging from $5,000-$10,000.
The initiative is spearheaded by Muslim crowdfunding platform LaunchGood, the American Muslim Community Foundation and four of America’s most renowned Muslim leaders: Imams Zaid Shakir, Omar Suleiman, Yasir Qadhi and Suhaib Webb.
“We started hearing that some of our colleagues were being let go or furloughed, and that some of these masjids (mosques) may even shut down,” the Islamic Center at NYU’s Webb said. “The masjid and imam are central to Muslim life… providing valuable leadership and religious instruction.”
Organizers also encourage all qualifying mosques and Islamic centers to apply for the Small Business Administration’s forgivable loans, part of the Paycheck Protection Program to incentivize businesses to keep their staff employed. The agency says nonprofit and faith-based organizations are eligible for the funds.