After Pittsburgh, the interfaith response sends message of solidarity across the religious divide

Thousands gathered for an interfaith prayer vigil at Pittsburgh’s Sixth Presbyterian Church in the hours following the mass shooting at the city’s Tree of Life synagogue, packing the pews with mourners from different congregations across the community.

Reverend Vincent Kolb, a pastor at Sixth Presbyterian, began the service by recalling the advice of the church’s former worshipper Fred “Mister” Rogers and said “it is in that spirit of neighborliness that we gather here tonight to be allies to our Jewish neighbors who have been victimized and traumatized by this tragedy,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Marylynne Pitz and Peter Smith reported.

Interfaith voices have been some of the loudest expressing solidarity for the victims of the shooting that left 11 dead on Saturday — the worst attack on worshipping Jews in American history according to the director of the American Jewish Archives. In addition to the vigil held at Sixth Presbyterian, interfaith services are being held across the country in the coming days.

The official interfaith community vigil, organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, will take place this evening.

Prominent members of Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities have also taken to social media to express support for Pittsburgh.

Solidarity and support have overwhelmingly been the main messages coming from members of other faiths and those at at the vigil — but not the only ones. Towards the end of the vigil at Sixth Presbyterian, which moved to the streets of Squirrel Hill, chants of “vote, vote, vote” echoed through the crowd.

The Muslim-American community has rallied behind the synagogue

Saturday at the Sixth Presbyterian vigil, Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, also spoke, asking the mourners who among them were angry, and as hands shot up he asked, “How could we not be? People were stolen from us.” But, he said, the salve for that anger will be doing good in the community, and shared a Quranic verse calling for people to perform better deeds in response to bad ones.

The Muslim-American community was already listening: On social media, the hashtag #Muslims4Pittsburgh circulated with a crowdfunding campaign for the Tree of Life victims and their families. Organized by MPower Change and CelebrateMercy, Muslim organizations dedicated to education and social justice, the campaign reached its first $25,000 goal in six hours.

“The Muslim-American community extends its hands to help the shooting victims, whether it is the injured victims or the Jewish families who have lost loved ones,” reads the page for the fundraising campaign, Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue. “We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action.”

The campaign has raised over $46,000 from more than a thousand backers since yesterday and is now aiming to hit $50,000. The website says the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh will work directly with Tree of Life to distribute funds to families.