ISIS has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed at least 22 people, including children, and wounded nearly 50 others at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in England on Monday night. It’s the latest attack in a string of tragedies perpetrated by the Islamic extremist group, which has staged more than 140 attacks in 29 countries, killing at least 2,000 people, since it became active in 2014.
In less than 24 hours, however, Britain’s local Muslim community had issued its own response, one that among Muslims, in particular, has become an increasingly popular way to express their support of communities affected by a group that’s obviously not representative of the values and religion they hold dear. A campaign entitled “Muslims United for Manchester” appeared on LaunchGood, a crowdfunding site that works like a blend of both Kickstarter and GoFundMe. The service allows anyone to raise money for both projects and cause work that empowers Muslims in need, and for the Muslim community to return the favor, promoting their own fundraising efforts to improve or support some broader social good.
To that end, “Muslims United for Manchester” seeks to raise at least $65,000 in short-term aid for the arena-bombing victims and their families (they’ve since lowered their initial goal to about $13,000). The campaign is led by the British Muslim Heritage Center, with support from a coalition of national Muslim rights and culture organizations including Forum For Change, The Federation of Student Islamic Societies, the Islamic Society of Britain, European Academy of Quranic Studies, and the Altrincham Muslim Association.
“We wish to respond to evil with good, as our faith instructs us, and send a powerful message of compassion through action,” reads the fundraising description, which includes a positive faith-based message: “Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: “Have mercy to those on earth, and the One in the Heavens (God) will have mercy upon you.” And the Quran teaches to “Repel evil by that which is better” (41:34).” (As Fast Company has reported, distributing funds in situations like this is incredibly tricky, but the group will likely consult with in-country crisis experts for how best and on what timeline to distribute those funds.)
Obviously, such campaigns only work if they go viral. But in this case, the pathway that this campaign travels in doing so may be equally important. As part of their mission statement, the creators are asking for like-minded Muslims, mosques, imams, and community leaders to “endorse and promote” the message, providing a front of support, the sort of outpouring that makes it clear just how much ISIS’s views are universally rejected.
“What we did with LaunchGood this morning was weld together a coalition of local actors, which is quite powerful,” says Muddassar Ahmed, who heads a UK-based public relations firm that works closely with the United Nations and U.S. State Department, and serves as a UK governmental advisor on Muslim communities. To do so, Ahmed connected many of those groups directly with LaunchGood, which helped shape the message.
After all, he set up a similar campaign, “Muslims United For London,” in March, after an ISIS-inspired driver intentionally plowed through a crowd of people on the Westminster Bridge, killing at least four people and wounding more than 40, including the fatal stabbing of a police officer at the Houses of Parliament. During the attack, Ahmed was barricaded in one of the government buildings. The campaign raised roughly $38,000 from 1,200 supporters, although the service itself has had many larger successes. “I think their ability to [reach across] Muslim communities is a unique value add, particularly when it’s Muslim organizations that are involved doing the work,” Ahmed says.
LaunchGood was cofounded in Detroit in 2011 by Chris Blauvelt, Omar Hamid, and Amany Killawi, three Muslim entrepreneurs who groomed the company through a local incubator program called Bizdom. The site officially launched in October 2013, and now has an predominantly Muslim team of roughly 20 people in five countries.
While numerous campaigns work to directly support everything from scholarship funds to rebuilding mosques to paying for bone-marrow donations, the group has sadly grown exponentially over the last three and a half years as its projects supporting victims of mass violence have gone viral. That includes “Rebuild with Love” which focused on rebuilding black churches and supporting arson victims after a rash of fires in June 2015, about this same time as a deadly church shooting in Charleston, and “Muslims United for San Bernardino” in response to another mass shooting in California, which because of the shooters’ proclaimed support of ISIS, took on the much the same tone as the current response to the arena attack. Those campaigns engaged thousands, raising $100,000 and $250,000, respectively.
So far, the company, which takes 5% of every transaction, has raised $19 million for more than 1,800 campaigns in 83 countries and has more than 100,000 donors. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to GoFundMe’s multiple billions raised by contributors in the double-digit millions but the question for all crowdfunding platforms is whether their donors will continue to give repeatedly.
By focusing on the cultural connection, the group has established a target audience of donors that continues to show up, one of the more massive challenges such services face. In February, the U.S-based campaign like “Muslims Unite to Repair Jewish Cemetery” raised over $150,00 from nearly 5,000 donors, drawing supportive tweets from Ellen Degeneres and J.K. Rowling.
An annual 30-day giving club called the Ramadan Challenge, which started in 2015 and launches again on May 27, has enough pre-registrations that it should draw 5,000 donors. That would be more than a two-fold increase from last year, when the group raised over $1 million for various causes, including $100,000 for the victims of Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.
LaunchGood CEO Chris Blauvelt says that part of the reason for the group’s success is that it’s sharing platform development and engagement lessons with a similar company, Patronicity, which he heads and cofounded. That service helps community groups and nonprofits launch crowd granting campaigns for civic projects that, as they get funded by the locals who support them, can trigger a match from state economic development agencies, which will clear away red tape for fast progress.
In both cases, the idea is that as much as the money being doled out helps fund things, it’s also a sign of political support. “When something like this happens in Manchester you feel so helpless, like, I can’t do anything, I’m thousands of miles away but I want my voice to be heard,” says Blauvelt.
Crowdfunding changes that in a way. It can’t stop tragedies from happening, bring back loved ones, or make up for pain and suffering, but, when done thoughtfully, may at least provide those affected with a strong signal of sympathy and support. “This is led by the Muslim community in the UK,” he adds. “They are British too. They’re also from Manchester. They’re also victims of this terrorism. Our faith doesn’t tolerate this kind of ideology, and this approach, and this belief. Crowdfunding just makes it so easy to take action.”
Corrections: This article originally misstated the name of LaunchGood founder Amany Killawi and the percentage of Muslims working for the company. We’ve updated the text.