When horrific tragedies grip news headlines, children’s television host Fred Rogers often advised people to “look for the helpers” ― because even in times of great sorrow, “you will always find people who are helping.”
After New Zealand’s mosque massacre last week, that’s exactly what one Muslim-American leader decided to do.
Tarek El-Messidi, an activist from Chicago, asked his Facebook followers on Monday evening to share stories of how non-Muslims have shown their solidarity since last Friday’s shooting. The goal was to create a comprehensive list illustrating “how much good has come out of the tragedy,” El-Messidi wrote in his post.
Not long after, dozens of comments began pouring in.
Some Muslims shared photos and videos of interfaith vigils at mosques and university campuses, where Jews, Christians, Sikhs and members of other faiths gathered to show their support.
At the University of Illinois at Chicago, students held a mass vigil on Monday and planted a tree in remembrance of the 50 people who were killed in the shooting.
In Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, over 1,000 people gathered at a Muslim center to grieve for the victims and stand together against bigotry.
And then there were the smaller, more private ways some allies showed their love ― by offering a tearful hug while in line at a coffee shop, sending flowers to mosques or just sending Facebook messages pledging solidarity.
Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Oklahoma chapter, shared photos of flowers and a handwritten card sent to his office.
El-Messidi is the founding director of CelebrateMercy, a nonprofit that seeks to promote the teachings of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad. He’s been compiling a list of all these interfaith actions in a spreadsheet, which has been posted online.
El-Messidi said the Quran teaches Muslims to “repel evil with that which is better.” He told HuffPost he believes the vigils, rallies, prayers and especially the personal gestures from allies he’s heard about as a result of the Facebook callout are repelling the evil in the world and making communities stronger.
“It provides people with a lot of hope and healing to hear how much good has come out of something so horrible,” El-Messidi said.
In the past, CelebrateMercy has helped raise funds to repair vandalized Jewish cemeteries and synagogues. Last year, its campaign for victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting raised over $230,000.
The organization has been helping a New Zealand Islamic center promote an online, crowdsourced fundraiser that is raising money for the victims and families of the Muslims killed in New Zealand. The campaign has raised over $1.7 million so far, with the majority of donations coming from non-Muslims, El-Messidi said.
When the attack occurred last Friday, a day of congregational prayer for Muslims around the world, El-Messidi said many Muslims were worried about whether it was safe to go to their own mosques to pray. The strong showing of support from people of other faiths helped calm those fears, he said.
“It shows the best of humanity, that it’s not only our community reaching out but people outside our communities saying, ‘We have your backs,’” he said.
He encouraged non-Muslims who want to show their support to reach out to local mosques, get to know Muslims in their neighborhoods and learn more about what Islam really teaches ― and then share what they’ve learned with their friends and families.
“That will just make sure that the victims’ lives really brought peace to the world, and more understanding,” he said.