News and analysis
June 13, 2016

Orlando Shooting Usurps Agenda at Muslim Charity Event

Rebecca Koenig for the Chronicle

Supporters of Islamic Relief USA pray before breaking their Ramadan fast at a fundraising dinner.

Robust, visible Muslim philanthropy is the antidote to both violence and Islamophobia, Muslim charity leaders told donors at an event less than 24 hours after a man sympathetic to ISIS perpetrated the largest mass shooting in American history.

"We have to be for development and not for destroying," said Mohamed Magid, imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, a mosque with multiple campuses in Northern Virginia.

The comments came as more than 700 supporters of Islamic Relief USA gathered Sunday in a hotel ballroom here just outside Washington to break their Ramadan fast and raise money for the charity’s relief work.

Speakers had prepared remarks about programs benefiting Syrian refugees and people suffering from lead contamination in Flint, Mich. They planned to reference the recent death of Muhammad Ali, the Muslim boxer and activist.

Instead, charity leaders and donors found themselves forced to address a different current event: the massacre of 49 people in a gay club in Orlando, Fla.

A news broadcast about the shooting played on a television in the hallway, where rugs were arranged for the evening prayer.

Muslim charity leaders took turns repudiating the shooter’s actions and calling for American Muslims to give generously to help those in need. Nonprofits like Islamic Relief USA serve to refute the actions of those who, like Orlando shooter Omar Mateen, have "betrayed Islam" with violence, said Mr. Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society.

Merely telling people that Islam is a religion of peace is not sufficient, said Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.

"We need to stop telling people what Islam is and start showing people what Islam is," she said.

But Anwar Khan, chief executive of Islamic Relief USA, kept the focus of his speech on the nonprofit’s work.

"I don’t have time to apologize for something that didn’t have anything to do with me," he said, to audience applause.

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