MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In the immediate hours after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, people from all over the country - even the world - looked for ways to help. Tarek El-Messidi was one of those people. He's the founding director of the Muslim-run nonprofit Celebrate Mercy. In partnership with other Muslim organizations, he set up a fundraiser titled Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue. It has raised almost $60,000 in the last 24 hours. And Tarek El-Messidi is with us now. Thank you so much for talking with us.
TAREK EL-MESSIDI: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: And what gave you this idea?
EL-MESSIDI: Well, when I first saw the footage and the story on TV from the synagogue, you know, I was sick to my stomach seeing that, in a place like a synagogue or a church or a mosque, you know, places that are sacred places of worship, that someone could commit such a - an abhorrent, disgusting crime, you know? Our organization, Celebrate Mercy, teaches about the life and the character of the Prophet Muhammad. And many of his teachings tell us that we should try to respond to evil with good, you know? When someone - there's a verse in the Quran that says, repel evil with that which is better. And we thought that, you know, what better way to embody the Prophet Muhammad's teachings than to try to start a campaign that will help reach out, first and foremost, as fellow human beings but also to, you know, our Abrahamic cousins from the Jewish community and try to help out in some way through this horrific ordeal.
MARTIN: The original goal was $25,000. Now that you - so you've exceeded it so quickly. Now, you've bumped it up to 75,000. Does that say something to you?
EL-MESSIDI: I think it says a lot. I think it says that there's a lot more good in humanity than there is bad and evil and hatred. We've had to increase the goal now twice, and a lot of the donors are not even Muslim. I mean, we said, clearly, on the crowdfunding page that, although this is a Muslim-led campaign, we welcome people of all faiths or even no faith.
MARTIN: But the fact that this is a Muslim-led campaign - is there some message that you would hope to impart with that?
EL-MESSIDI: Yeah. One particular story from the prophet's life inspired it. And it is - like, there was a time when the Prophet Muhammad was sitting down with some of his disciples. And he noticed a Jewish funeral procession passing by at a distance. And he immediately stood up when he saw that Jewish funeral and paid his respects. His disciples asked him, why are you standing up? This is not a Muslim funeral. It's only a Jewish funeral. Why are you standing? His response was so beautiful. He said, is it not a human soul? Is it not a human soul?
And that story - you know, when I first saw the desecration at Jewish cemeteries last year and now with what happened at the synagogue, it reminded me of that story from the Prophet Muhammad's life. And it really inspired me to want to start something, to want to help out and really to put aside - I mean, if you look, historically, Jewish and Muslim communities in America have not worked that closely together. I mean, often, politics gets in the way. Things that are happening overseas often gets in the way. But what's most important is our shared humanity. And we wanted to reach out as human beings to help out.
MARTIN: And do you have a plan for the funds now that you have exceeded even your own expectations? What do you hope to do with the funds that you are raising?
EL-MESSIDI: What we want to do is go to any of the affected families, to say, you know, any costs that you have, whether they are deductables for medical treatment, whether, you know, you've had to have relatives come in from out of town or, you know, book hotels to be near you, whether it's funeral expenses, we, as Muslim-Americans, want to lift that financial burden off of these families. We want to be there.
MARTIN: That is Tarek El-Messidi of the Muslim-run nonprofit Celebrate Mercy. Tarek El-Messidi, thank you so much for talking with us.
EL-MESSIDI: Thank you for having me.
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