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Muslims are crowdfunding for burned black churches — and it’s not just about religion

A fire at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, on June 30.
A fire at Mount Zion AME Church in Greeleyville, South Carolina, on June 30.
Clarnedon Fire Department

In the days after white supremacist Dylann Roof was arrested for a deadly attack on Charleston, South Carolina's Emanuel AME church, fires were reported at six Southern churches with mostly African-American congregations.

Three of these fires are believed to have been intentionally set, and the causes of the other three are still under investigation.

But Faatimah Knight, a theology student from Brooklyn, didn't need evidence of the cause of the destruction to take action. CNN reports that the 23-year-old, who is Muslim, started a LaunchGood campaign to raise money to rebuild the churches.

She and a group of other young Muslims behind the effort aimed to raise $10,000, but have now raised more than $58,000, all during the holy month of Ramadan.

Both religious and racial solidarity

The fundraising campaign's page reads, "All houses of worship are sanctuaries ... let's unite to help our sisters and brothers in faith."

But Knight's sense of connection to the churches had to do with race, too. "Supporting these churches hit me most as a black person," she told CNN. "It has been a challenging time to be black in America."

A statement on the fundraising campaign page links the experience of Muslim Americans and African Americans, pointing out that many people belong to both groups.

We must always keep in mind that the Muslim community and the black community are not different communities. We are profoundly integrated in many ways, in our overlapping identities and in our relationship to this great and complicated country. We are connected to Black churches through our extended families, our friends and teachers, and our intertwined histories and convergent present.

Islamic scholar Imam Zaid Shakir, a professor at Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California, contributed a statement emphasizing to potential supporters the intensity of hate and bigotry against African Americans:

The American Muslim community cannot claim to have experienced anything close to the systematic and institutionalized racism and racist violence that has been visited upon African Americans. Unless, of course, we are talking about those of us who members of the African American Muslim community. As a whole, however, we understand the climate of racially inspired hate and bigotry that is being reignited in this country. We want to let our African American brothers and sisters know that we stand in solidarity with them during this dark hour. As a small symbol of that solidarity, during this blessed month of Ramadan, we are gathering donations to help rebuild the seven churches that have been burned down since the racist murders in Charleston, South Carolina.

Churches are frequent targets for anti-black terrorism

As Vox's Dara Lind and German Lopez wrote as the fires were being investigated, attacks on black churches have been a frequent form of anti-black terrorism in America: The black church has been a symbol and a gathering place for black America, and that's made it an appealing target for white supremacist terrorists.

Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where the June massacre happened, was burned in the 19th century after one of its founders planned a slave revolt. In 1964, four young girls were killed when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed. There was a wave of firebombings of black churches in the South in the 1990s, and a black church in Massachusetts was burned the day President Barack Obama was inaugurated.

One study found that 58 percent of federal convictions for church arsons from 1995 to 2000 were for crimes "motivated by bias."

VIDEO: The long history of anti-black terrorism