Campaign responds to violence with Prophetic graceWritten by Steven Zhou
A campaign to write condolence letters to the family of the late U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens ended on Sept. 24, but its impact is continuing. The campaign initially hoped for 1,000 letters in 10 days. Instead it went viral with over 7,500 letters from 115 countries.
Mr. Stevens was killed this September in Benghazi by an armed mob protesting violently against the release of an obscure anti-Islam film in the United States. In response to the tragedy, Celebrate Mercy, a non-profit organization which tries to promote the values and example of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings upon him, organized a letter-writing campaign.
Celebrate Mercy launched its Mercy Mail Campaign via Facebook and Twitter, urging followers to “respond to an evil deed with a good one.” The organisation's original goal was to collect 1,000 letters for Mr. Stevens' family in ten days. According to their website, they received over 3,000 letters in less than 48 hours. This caught the eye of international news outlets like CNN, BBC, and CBC, giving the campaign tremendous momentum.
“There were really three reasons why we wanted to start this campaign,” said Sadia Qaderi, Celebrate Mercy's marketing director. “First we want to reach out and act on a human level, second, we wanted to exemplify the character of our Prophet, and third, we wanted to show that what happened does not represent the majority of Muslims.”
Ms. Qaderi says that the staff at Celebrate Mercy were amazed when they began to get one letter almost every minute or so.
“It just reaffirmed our belief that what happened didn't reflect the beliefs of most Muslims out there,” she says.
The letters came from people on five continents including many Libyans. When news of the effort featured on The Huffington Post, the Stevens' family immediately reached out to Celebrate Mercy's founder Tarek el-Messidi.
Mr. Stevens' sister Anne wrote, “I want to thank you on behalf of our family for the tremendous efforts you have been making to collect letters from people around the world. We are thankful for the goodwill of the thousands of good people who are reaching out. It is this public display of goodwill that will move us all to better understanding and collaboration.”
According to Mr. el-Messidi, Canadians came up with the third highest amount of letters, trailing the United States and Egypt.
“What a great way to use the spotlight on us in a useful way,” said Ali Ahmed, a student in Ottawa who participated in the campaign and sent out a letter. “I think it's a positive way to use the negative attention that on the global Muslim community right now and show people that the majority of Muslims don't subscribe to that sort of violence.”
The anti-film violence was the top international story for weeks, and drew much debate on the subjects of freedom of expression, and the supposed “inherent” volatility in the Middle East. Magazines like Newsweek featured prominent articles on “Muslim rage,” which referred to Islam in essentialist and highly negative ways.
The Celebrate Mercy mailing campaign, in practice, offset such assumptions.
“We saw the footage on the news of what was happening and immediately Tarek sent out a message to our board which said that we needed to address this and act in a way that was representative of the true character of the Prophet,” Ms. Qaderi said.
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