August 19, 1999 | GISELE DURHAM, Associated Press Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Islamic groups in the United States have tapped the Internet, solicited blood donations and sent pleas to mosques across the country in a coordinated effort to bring relief to earthquake victims in Turkey.
Some Muslims said Wednesday that the campaign demonstrates the growing prominence and organization of one of America’s fastest-growing faiths.
“The outpouring of support from the American Muslim community is huge. Everyone in the Mwslim community wants to help,” said Dalell Mohmed, a spokesman for the Holy Land Foundation, a relief group based in Richardson, Texas.
The Holy Land Foundation has raised thousands of dollars since the earthquake — one of the century’s most powerful — devastated an 80-mile swath of western Turkey on Tuesday, burying thousands under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Islamic Relief, based in Burbank, Calif., has raised $20,000 in donations for Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, and organizers expect $30,000 more within the next few days, said spokesman Abdel Salam Serajudeen.
Mosques and Islamic groups from New York to Detroit to Los Angeles — all cities with large Muslim and Arab populations — also started accepting donations Wednesday, some sending their appeals by e-mail and fax, organizers said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington said it contacted 2,000 mosques nationwide for offers of assistance. The New York-based Islamic Circle of North America began collecting medicine to send to Turkey.
“We’ve gotten hundreds of calls from all over the U.S. and Canada,” said secretary-general Zaheer Uddin. “Muslims everywhere are asking how they can help.”
Turkish Muslims are a small minority of American’s Muslim population, estimated at about 6 million. But Islamic groups in the United States have increasingly organized relief efforts in Muslim countries, particularly during crises in Somalia, Bosnia and, most recently, Kosovo.
“The Kosovo crisis taught the Muslim organizations many things,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Within the first few days of U.S. intervention in Kosovo, his group raised about $2 million in aid, contributing tents, clothing and food, he said. The group, which is already soliciting blood donations, hopes to exceed that figure this time around.
The relief effort by America’s Muslim community paled in comparison to the vast amounts of aid and search equipment sent by the United States and other nations.
But some activists said the speed and breadth of their relief effort demonstrated the newfound prominence of American Muslims. In recent years, Muslim groups have sought a bigger political profile and community presence, publishing pamphlets on religious practices and offering classes in Islam and Arabic.
“Ten years ago there were only two or three groups like ours here,” said Awad. “Today, there are dozens.”