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Tree of Life congregations raise money for security at Islamic Center of Pittsburgh |

Tree of Life congregations raise money for security at Islamic Center of Pittsburgh

Natasha Lindstrom
AP Photo | Vincent Thian
A message card is placed at a collection of flowers left at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Saturday, March 16, 2019. New Zealand’s stricken residents reached out to Muslims in their neighborhoods and around the country on Saturday, in a fierce determination to show kindness to a community in pain as a 28-year-old white supremacist stood silently before a judge, accused in mass shootings at two mosques that left dozens of people dead.
Paul Guggenheimer | Tribune-Review
Mohammad Sajjad, program director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, discusses the mass shootings in New Zealand on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Wasi Mohamed of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh speaks during a community interfaith vigil inside Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum Oakland on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018.

The three Jewish congregations affected by last fall’s mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue said Friday they are working to raise money for critical security measures at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

“Muslims in Pittsburgh grieved when our Jewish neighbors were attacked last year, and now the Jewish community is standing with us,” Islamic Center of Pittsburgh Board Chair Mizanoor Biswas said in a statement.

Members of the center in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood say they are concerned for their safety following the shooting that killed 50 Muslims at the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand last week.

“Faith groups are leading the way here in Pittsburgh, working in the community to ensure our places of worship remain sacred, safe and welcoming,” Biswas said.

RELATED: How New Zealand attack may impact Pittsburgh’s Muslim community

The crowdfunding campaign has been dubbed, “Worshipping without fear.”

Donations will go toward measures such as equipping the center with additional security cameras, hiring staff to guard worshippers during Friday prayers and training staff and members in how to identify and respond to safety issues, a joint news release said.

“It is one of the ways that we can thank the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh for reaching out to us, helping us and sharing our grief as they immediately did with us last fall,” Stephen Cohen, president of New Light Congregation, said in a statement. “That was a moment of beauty during a horrific time — one that left an indelible impression on me and our congregation and it’s something that we want to help pay forward during their time of need.”

Tree of Life President Sam Schachner said the Jewish community condemns and vows to fight not only anti-Semitism, but also is “dedicated to the eradication of all forms of prejudice, discrimination and hatred directed at others.”

That includes Islamophobia, or the irrational fear or hatred of Muslims.

“When you look at the United States of America, we are a melting pot of the entire world. So, we’re part of every human from everywhere, and we’re not going to change anyone’s culture or their way of life,” said Muslim Association of Greater Pittsburgh member Zulfiqar Ahmed, 50, of Richland, who works in corporate retail, following a service last week held to honor the New Zealand victims and discuss how to thwart Islamophobia. “Islam means peace, and whatever interpretation has been out there, I think we will change that slowly but surely as people learn more about Islam.”

Schachner said the fundraiser is about doing “what we inherently know is the right thing, and that is to love thy neighbor and that means stepping up and supporting our Muslim brothers and sisters, just as they have supported us.”

The Islamic Center was among Muslim groups from Western Pennsylvania and around the country who raised funds for Jewish groups and held interfaith vigils after a shooter killed 11 people and injured seven others at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood in late October.

RELATED: Here’s how $6.3M raised for Tree of Life shooting victims will be disbursed

“They stood with us, sung with us, prayed with us, grieved with us, and raised funds for us,” said Donna Coufal, president of Congregation Dor Hadash. “Now, we hope to provide that same support for the Muslim community as it grapples with the unspeakable tragedy in Christchurch.”

Congregations Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life are collaborating on the fundraiser with All for All, a regional immigrant inclusion initiative.

“Pittsburgh proved that we are stronger together when our Jewish neighbors came under attack in October, and we need to show that same energy and love to our Muslim community now,” All for All project director Betty Cruz said.

The center’s board and Wasi Mohamed, the center’s former executive director, pledged to match the first $5,000 in donations to the crowdfunding campaign.

In recent years, the center has been in close contact with the FBI in Pittsburgh to handle issues related to harassment and threats.

For more information, visit the campaign’s website on the LaunchGood donation platform.

RELATED: Pittsburgh-area Muslims aim to quell fear, hate; pray for victims of Christchurch, Tree of Life

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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