Muslim Americans pledge $20 million for South Asian quake victims
By Christine A. Terada, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - Leaders from member organizations of the American Muslim Taskforce for Disaster Relief (AMTFDR) gathered at a press conference October 13 in Washington to announce their pledge to raise $20 million in aid for victims of the South Asian earthquake.
The 7.6-magnitude earthquake swept across central Afghanistan to western Bangladesh on October 8, killing more than 30,000 people, injuring more than 45,000, and leaving approximately 3.5 million homeless. Its epicenter was in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have pledged $50 million in disaster assistance, helicopters, and fixed wing aircraft to help the victims of the disaster. Secretary Rice detoured her trip to Central Asia October 12 to visit Pakistani leaders and American troops who are providing transport to the injured in the area affected by the earthquake.
Ahmed Younis, director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, called the AMTFDR pledge effort a "cooperative attempt by the American Muslim community to provide relief in the most efficient and most abundant manner possible for the brothers and sisters of humanity that have suffered as the result of the significant earthquake in South Asia."
A second leader who also spoke at the press conference, Sayyid Syeed, who is the secretary-general of the Islamic Society of North America, reminded journalists that the earthquake struck during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. "Muslims are in the mood of giving" and will be especially motivated to respond to relief efforts during Ramadan, he said.
Syeed said the tragedy has created an excellent opportunity to improve the American image in the Muslim world. The AMTFDR, he said, is "most qualified to establish bridges between the Muslim world and America."
Younis shared these sentiments, saying how the pledge "really underscores the importance of the charitable organizations of the American Muslim community."
Another AMTFDR member organization, Islamic Relief USA, is also a member of the U.N. Economic and Social Council and has operated development projects in Pakistan since 1992. With three offices near the earthquake-affected areas, in Islamabad, Neelum Valley, and Muzaffarabad, Islamic Relief announced in a statement released at the press conference that their emergency response team was able to reach the affected area within one hour after the earthquake hit. The release also noted that their organization immediately allocated $4 million to Pakistan following the disaster.
Mohamed Aboulmagd, a representative of the organization, told those at the press conference that the AMTFDR task force is a "good step" toward improving cooperation among American Muslims.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations' government relations director, Corey Saylor, agreed with Aboulmagd on the need to mobilize and cooperate. He said that although providing relief is not the purpose of his organization, "our faith compels us to help out in humanitarian events."
Zahid Bukhari, chairman of ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Relief since 1996, extended the feeling of community and invited the rest of America to join in and take action. He said that he is "very much confident that the whole America will respond, as they've responded to previous national and international tragedies."
In addition to announcing their pledge, the leaders also presented a letter addressed to President Bush advocating the formation of an ad hoc committee composed of U.S. governmental and American Muslim nongovernmental relief agencies to offer coordinated relief to earthquake victims.
The AMTFDR, originally formed as a response to Hurricane Katrina, is joining earthquake relief efforts by mobilizing its member organizations into a permanent coalition. Member organizations include Hidaya Foundation, North American Islamic Trust, Indian Muslim Relief Committee, Islamic Relief Worldwide, ICNA Relief, Kind Hearts, Life for Relief and Development, Islamic Society of Greater Houston, Zakat Foundation, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Society of North America, Muslim Alliance in North America, Muslim American Society, National Council of Pakistani Americans, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Muslim Ummah of North America, and Freedom and Justice Foundation.