Prayers at mosques throughout Orange County on Friday were dedicated to ethnic Albanians being driven out of Kosovo, and local Islamic groups moved into high gear organizing fund-raising dinners and a blood drive for the mostly Muslim refugees.
Many local Muslim leaders said eliciting support for the effort has been easier than during previous crises involving Muslims, such as the Persian Gulf War, because this time the United States is backing the Muslim cause. But they stressed that relief should be based on humanitarian considerations, not religion.
"The problem is a human problem," said Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of Orange County. "Human beings are suffering. Homes are being burned. Anyone with a human heart should feel pain, not just Muslims."
Local Muslim leaders met Wednesday night to launch a humanitarian offensive, pledging $20,000 to the cause, organizing rallies and appealing to the more than 60,000 Muslim families in Orange County to register themselves as foster parents for Kosovo orphans.
After prayers at the Islamic Society's Garden Grove center, many among the 2,000 attendees slipped cash into donation containers and signed petitions to Congress to show support for allied military action against Serbia.
"My hope is that if they don't do something physically, they will at least speak their support for the actions by President Clinton and NATO," said Siddiqi. "And if they can't do that, at least feel in their hearts that what's happening is wrong."
Anaheim Hills resident Simin Omar, 44, said she cried after watching televised reports of the ethnic Albanians being driven from their homes. "I didn't enjoy eating. I couldn't sleep," she said.
Omar said some of her friends believe that Americans have joined in the relief effort to save the small number--about 10%--of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo who are not Muslims.
"The situations in Iraq, Chechnya and Bosnia were all so painful and so unfair," Omar said. "We've just lost faith in Americans helping Muslims."
Some others said they were upset that the Western media has described the conflict as ethnic, not religious.
"I'm somewhat perturbed, because across the board, the words being used are 'ethnic Albanians,' which disassociates the fact that most of them are Muslims," said Fawad Yacoob, youth counselor at the Garden Grove center.
"For oh-so-long, Islam and Muslims have been defined as terrorist in nature, but now we've got a great opportunity to draw international attention to the fact that we're religious and peaceful."
Donations may be sent in care of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California at 10573 West Pico Blvd., No. 35, Los Angeles, CA 90064.