U.S. Islamic Community Reaches Out to Pakistan

The Islamic community in the United States has mobilized to help victims of Saturday's deadly earthquake in South Asia. Business owners and worshippers in mosques are among those donating millions of dollars in cash and equipment.

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More than 20,000 people have been killed in Saturday's earthquake in South Asia. The United Nations estimates that two and a half million people near the Pakistan-India border need shelter, and with winter rapidly approaching, officials fear more deaths from exposure or disease. Governments and relief agencies worldwide are sending aid, as are donors in this country. As NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports, the American Islamic community is donating millions of dollars in cash and equipment.

(Soundbite of Muslim prayer song)

WENDY KAUFMAN reporting:

As Muslims across the US gathered for prayer during this, the holy month of Ramadan, they're opening their hearts and their wallets to their Pakistani brothers and sisters. At last night's early evening prayers at the Bellevue Mosque in suburban Seattle, worshippers were encouraged to give either by using the Web or writing checks.

Unidentified Man #1: So inshallah, either way is fine, so inshallah, we, again, request you to donate generously. (Foreign language spoken)

KAUFMAN: Worshippers were asked to asked their contributions to Islamic Relief, an international relief and development charity which aims to alleviate the suffering of the world's poorest people. The organization, which is also the largest Islamic relief agency in the West, has established health, education and other projects in Pakistan for the past 15 years. One of their clinics saw 2,000 victims in the 24 hours immediately following the massive quake.

Islamic Relief has already earmarked $4 million from existing funds to send to Pakistan. The organization hopes to raise a worldwide total of $10 million in cash, about 20 percent of it from the US, according to US General Manager Mohamed Abdul-Magd. He notes that during the month of Ramadan, Muslims often redouble their efforts for charity.

Mr. MOHAMED ABDUL-MAGD (US General Manager, Islamic Relief): This month is a month of mercy. It's the month Muslims fast to remember the poor and the needy and the deprived. And during this month, the Muslims are very generous to help other human beings all over the world.

KAUFMAN: The fact that vast numbers of American Muslims are congregating for prayers this time of year has also helped in raising funds, says Raza Farrukh of the Islamic Circle of North America.

Mr. RAZA FARRUKH (Islamic Circle of North America): In Ramadan, the community is very active. We can communicate with people and write them information, and in return, they donate for their brethren.

KAUFMAN: Relief agencies say earthquake survivors need tents, blankets and jackets, medicine and fracture kits for broken bones. In some cases, supplies will be sent to those in need, but in many other cases, agencies will send cash. It is often far more economical to buy the necessary supplies in South Asia.

It's not just the organized relief agencies and mosques which are collecting donations. So are many individuals. For example, Shakeel Cozmi(ph), the owner of the two-story Ambassador Restaurant in Queens, didn't charge for last night's dinner of chicken and fish, vegetables and Pakistani delicacies. Instead, patrons were encouraged to make generous contributions that will go to the Pakistani president's special relief fund.

Mr. SHAKEEL COZMI (Owner, Ambassador Restaurant): There was no minimum charge, and there was no food cost or any other cost involved. So whatever money we collected, penny to penny--each and every penny, rather, went to that relief fund.

KAUFMAN: Shakeel Cozmi, like other contributors, wanted to do something. Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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