Passing the virtual hat for prayer rug cleaning
Answer us

A gesture of repair

It's been an extraordinary weekend.

Last week, a drunk man barged into the Al-Iman masjid in Astoria, Queens, and urinated on the prayer rugs. I tweeted about it, horrified at this display of Islamophobia (and also just plain atrocious behavior.) On Thursday, @stumark suggested that we raise money to replace the prayer rugs at the Al-Iman mosque in Queens. On Friday, I posted to this blog and to twitter asking for donations toward reimbursing the mosque for the costs of steam-cleaning their prayer rugs. My hope was to raise a few hundred bucks as a gesture of interfaith good will, a way of showing this one Muslim community that the actions of that drunk man do not represent the beliefs of most Americans.

Over the course of two days, more than a thousand US dollars poured in to my bank account. I decided to stop the fundraising when we passed the $1000 threshold, and posted to twitter saying that we'd reached our goal and could stop now; a few more donations rolled in while I was announcing that we'd raised enough, so our total is $1,180.

One thousand, one hundred and eighty dollars were donated by sixty-five people from across the United States; those who identified their locations mentioned places as far apart as Oregon, New York, and Oklahoma, and I myself live in a small town in western Massachusetts. We are people of many traditions; although Stu Mark and I are Jewish, and I know that at least two of the donors are rabbis (and many donors self-identified themselves as Jews), others self-identified as Christian (Catholic, Protestant, evangelical), Unitarian Universalist, Pagan, Buddhist, and Muslim.

The first handful of donors were people I know personally, either offline or through sustained online interaction, but within an hour of making the initial announcement I started getting donations from people whose names I had never seen before. Many who donated included notes saying things like "thank you for giving me something I can do" and "please tell the mosque that that man does not represent me."

As donations and notes of good will poured in, and as I listened to radio coverage of the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I remembered sitting in my living room with friends five years ago as the scope of that disaster began to emerge. And I remembered the Katrina People Finder project, and the amazing outpouring of volunteer labor at that awful moment in time. What we learned then, and what I've been reminded of now, is that most people want to make things better; what we need is an opportunity to join together. And thanks to the internet, joining together to make the world a better place has never been easier than it is today.

I'm working on figuring out to whose attention I should send the letter and check, and will put them in the mail tomorrow. For now, I'm sitting back and marveling at the awesome things we can accomplish when we pull together. We raised $1,180 over the course of 48 hours, mostly in $5, $10, $18 and $20 increments. A few people mentioned being low-income; many people said they wished they could give more. But small donations add up, and there's something incredibly moving for me in the fact that we raised over a thousand dollars in one weekend in this way. I hope we've been able to show our Muslim friends and neighbors (offline and online) that despite the recent rise in Islamophobia, those who are preaching fear and hatred do not represent all of us.

To all who donated, and all who spread the word via emails, twitter, blogs, facebook, livejournal: thank you so much. To all who are finding this post now and wish you'd had a chance to donate, please take five minutes and make a donation to another cause which matters to you. (If you're looking for suggestions, you might consider relief efforts in Pakistan, or New Ground: a Jewish-Muslim partnership for change, or the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for peace in the Middle East.)

Wishing everyone blessings as this lunar month -- Elul on the Jewish calendar, Ramadan on the Muslim calendar -- draws toward its close. (And now it's time for me to return to planning for High Holiday services!)

Edited on 8/31 to add: I'm sending the check tomorrow to the attention of one of the administrators at the mosque; they have graciously accepted our donation, which will go toward the cost of replacing their carpets. The masjid administrators and congregation are grateful for this act of kindness. Thanks again to everyone who participated.

Edited on 9/12 to add: If you're here via Nick Kristof's column, welcome! I put up a post just for you: welcome, new readers!