Muslim Americans raise more than $100,000 to help after San Bernardino shooting

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SAN BERNARDINO, CA - DECEMBER 07: People hold candles as they attend a vigil held at the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors headquarters to remember those injured and killed in the shooting at the Inland Regional Center on December 7, 2015 in San Bernardino, California. FBI and other law enforcement officials continue to investigate the mass shooting that left 14 people dead and another 21 injured on December 2nd. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

SAN BERNARDINO, CA — Doing good is second nature to Faisal Qazi, so when he heard about the mass shooting in San Bernardino last week, he and some friends set up a fund to help the victims.

Then came the news that the shooters were Islamic extremists, and they put the brakes on it — briefly. Qazi and his friends are Muslims, and they became afraid how their kindness would be received.

“We weren’t sure what kind of backlash would come to our charitable work,” Qazi said. Charity is how the neurologist fills his spare time — providing free healthcare and job training to people in need as part of a faith-based nonprofit called the Whitestone Foundation.

Their mission is to leverage American Muslim resources to fight poverty, but they’re about helping, not spreading religion, he said. “We don’t have a religious charter. It’s a community services charter,” he said.

Click here for full coverage of the San Bernardino shooting.

Fear of backlash

Still, stepping into the public eye with a donation to the loved ones of the 14 people killed in the mass shootings at Inland Regional Center could draw negative attention to Whitestone, they feared.

But Qazi and his friends are close to the community where the shooting occurred and to the center. “Many of my patients’ families go there to receive services,” Qazi said.

“Now we’re finding out that we have second or third degree connections to people who died.”

They tossed their apprehensions aside. It was time to give.

The morning after the shooting, they opened a page on the Islamic-American crowdfunding site LaunchGood with the goal of raising $20,000.

Doing even more

But word of their fund made it to religious scholars, who were particularly upset over the shootings.

“I know that religious scholars have worked so hard…educating on anti-extremism,” Qazi said. “I think they were shocked, because it’s a huge setback to all their efforts.”

The scholars wanted to see Muslim Americans do more in the wake of the shooting, so Qazi and his friends raised the fund’s goal up to $140,000.

By early Wednesday, it had collected more than $110,000, putting it on track to beat LaunchGood’s most successful campaign to date — which collected donations to help the congregations of black churches that had burned down.

Some backlash came

In contrast to the anti-Muslim rhetoric Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has spewed since the San Bernardino shootings, local conservative politicians have supported the donation drive, Qazi said.

But on social media, along with the praise, there have been plenty of nasty comments, which didn’t surprise him. “One young Muslim girl posted a comment on her Facebook page that this day is not a day to read any comments on any website,” he said.

Even as a doctor who does charity work, being a Muslim in America is not as easy as it used to be, he said. “I think things are different. I think things are emotionally intense,” he said. “I do think some people are at each other’s throats.”

For him personally, “it’s really become taxing and burdensome,” he said.

His work on behalf of others keeps him going. “Our work is very empowering,” he said. And, like many Americans, Qazi’s faith is his pillar. “My faith is the biggest inspiration for the work I do.”