People gather at San Bernardino Golf Course after being evacuated from the scene after the shooting.

Story highlights

Faisal Qazi is a neurologist by trade and a charity worker in his spare time

The shootings moved him to raise money to help the victims

CNN  — 

Doing good is second nature to Faisal Qazi, so when he heard about the mass shooting in San Bernardino last week, he and some friends set up a fund to help the victims.

Then came the news that the shooters were Islamic extremists, and they put the brakes on it – briefly. Qazi and his friends are Muslims, and they became afraid how their kindness would be received.

“We weren’t sure what kind of backlash would come to our charitable work,” Qazi said. Charity is how the neurologist fills his spare time – providing free health care and job training to people in need as part of a faith-based nonprofit called Minds.

Their mission is to leverage American Muslim resources to fight poverty, but they’re about helping, not spreading religion, he said. “We don’t have a religious charter. It’s a community services charter,” he said.

Fear of backlash

Still, stepping into the public eye with a donation to the loved ones of the 14 people killed in the mass shootings at Inland Regional Center could draw negative attention to Minds, they feared.

Faisal Qazi

But Qazi and his friends are close to the community where the shooting occurred and to the center. “Many of my patients’ families go there to receive services,” Qazi said.

“Now we’re finding out that we have second- or third-degree connections to people who died.”

They tossed their apprehensions aside. It was time to give.

The morning after the shooting, they opened a page on the Islamic-American crowdfunding site LaunchGood. Their original goal was to raise $20,000.

Doing even more

But word of their fund made it to religious scholars, who were particularly upset about the shootings.

“I know that religious scholars have worked so hard … educating on anti-extremism,” Qazi said. “I think they were shocked, because it’s a huge setback to all their efforts.”

The scholars wanted to see Muslim Americans do more after the shooting, so Qazi and his friends raised the fund’s goal to $140,000.

By early Wednesday, it had collected more than $110,000, putting it on track to beat LaunchGood’s most successful campaign to date, which collected donations to help the congregations of black churches that had burned down.

Some backlash came

In contrast to the anti-Muslim rhetoric Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has spewed since the San Bernardino shootings, local conservative politicians have supported the donation drive, Qazi said.

But on social media, along with the praise, there have been plenty of nasty comments, which didn’t surprise him. “One young Muslim girl posted a comment on her Facebook page that this day is not a day to read any comments on any website,” he said.

Being a Muslim in America is not as easy as it used to be, Qazi said. “I think things are different. I think things are emotionally intense,” he said.

“Constantly having to defend Islam and Muslims against scrutiny and negative assertions has really become taxing.”

His work on behalf of others keeps him going. “Our work is very empowering,” he said. And, like many Americans, Qazi’s faith is his pillar. “My faith is the biggest inspiration for the work I do.”