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'We see this as our responsibility': Muslims fundraise for Americans impacted by coronavirus

Organisations raise more than half a million dollars to help families in need of financial assistance
Some mosques in US have taken initiatives to provide grocery delivery and other services to those in need (AFP)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated global financial markets and sent shockwaves through the US economy with analysts expecting massive job losses in the coming months.

According to a recent poll, a staggering 18 percent of American households reported either being laid off or being forced to reduce their working hours amid the pandemic.

'We see this as our responsibility according to our faith'

- Omar Nassimi, program manager at MakeSpace

With economists expecting more people to lose their jobs in the coming weeks and months, several Muslim organisations are stepping in to ensure some of America's most vulnerable are getting what they need to survive.

Penny Appeal USA and CelebrateMercy are working with the Islamic Center of New York University to ensure struggling families, regardless of their religious affiliations, are able to ride out the crisis.

Their collective efforts helped raise more than half a million dollars to help out those families in need of financial assistance.

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"This is a core aspect of our faith - to be a mercy to everyone," Tarek el-Messidi, the founder of CelebrateMercy, told Middle East Eye.

"One of the prophetic traditions that really inspired this campaign is the one that says the most beloved people for God are those who benefit people the most."

Many Americans can't afford to stay indoors

Since the first case of the coronavirus was reported in the US in late January, more than 15,000 Americans have been infected with the disease, officially known as Covid-19, and there have been more than 120 reported deaths.

The White House has announced an economic stimulus package that offers paid sick leave, and the Trump administration said it is working on delivering direct payments to taxpayers to ease their burdens.

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Still, the payments have not yet been approved and many Americans have complained of struggling to make ends meet.

"Experts are recommending that people avoid large crowds, maintain a reasonable supply of shelf-stable foods in case they end up quarantined, and stay home from work if they feel unwell," Penny Appeal USA said on its fundraising page.

"However, heeding this advice is a privilege that many Americans cannot afford, especially low-income families, contractors, self-employed individuals and the elderly."

In less than a week, the organisations said they were able to raise more than $270,000 after receiving more than 600 financial aid applications from vulnerable Americans who need help paying for their rent, utilities and food.

As of the first week of April, the fundraising campaign raised more than $520,000 and delivered aid to nearly 700 applicants.

Muslim-led, open to all

Some mosques and Islamic centres across the US have already taken the initiative to help the most needy in society.

MakeSpace, a non-profit, has begun gathering volunteers to deliver groceries, help with child care and provide other community needs.

"Our organisation was started to serve the community's needs through spiritual guidance and service," Omar Nassimi, the program manager at MakeSpace, told MEE.

"So when this crisis broke out, we knew that so many people were going to be negatively affected. We started this service to bring the community together in order to help each other in this difficult time. We see this as our responsibility according to our faith."

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The Dar al-Hijrah mosque is conducting a similar initiative for those in the Virginia area, beginning a weekly food bank service. The mosque has also set up a drive-through service to protect the sick, elderly and immunocompromised from directly contacting others.

Still, as schools across the country close for weeks, activists told MEE that the need for these types of services was increasing.

The Trump administration has offered new measures to help combat the economic crisis, but has also said the virus may remain a threat for the next 18 months.

Messidi said he hopes that the fundraising campaign will continue for as long as the pandemic continues, and that the organisations are able to continue to provide services to the needy.

"We're definitely leaving the door open," he said. "The partners have left the door open to extend it if needed."

"It could go into Ramadan, and a lot of Ramadan giving could apply to this too." Ramadan will begin on around 23 April this year.

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