Since the horror of the atrocity in San Bernardino unfolded, the Islamic Center of San Diego where I am the imam, has been inundated by media queries and questions from the public. The pain and anger that I, and my community, share with the rest of the nation, is exacerbated by the “otherness” of how some of the questions are framed. That I am devastated and angry at the killings, as a citizen, as a Muslim and as a father of four daughters is secondary to the fact that I am the religious leader of an Islamic center, and the perpetrators are reported to have been influenced, albeit indirectly, by a group that has self-declared itself as the “Islamic State.”
Judging by the hateful and incendiary rhetoric coming from some powerful and influential people, the very humanity of Muslims is now suspect, as a direct outcome of the insanity that unfolded at the Inland Regional Center. Thankfully, our Islamic Center has also received letters and expressions of support, from faith leaders and fellow citizens.
For the vast majority of Muslims across the world, the question of whether ISIS and those of their ilk speak for Islam and Muslims was settled long ago. They don’t, and this is evidenced by the fact that Muslims have “boots on the ground” in the fight against ISIS, in the form of the brave Syrian people who are leading the war against this murderous ideology, as well as the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad. These people correctly refer to ISIS as “Daesh,” a derogatory Arabic moniker that is more appropriate. It denies these monsters the dignity of a connection with the faith that is loved and cherished by 7 million Muslim Americans and 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.
This is not to deny the fact that the Daesh have twisted Islamic concepts like jihad into a justification for wanton bloodletting. From the time al-Qaeda came into existence, Muslim Americans have been taking this challenge to their faith head-on, as 40 percent of cases related to terrorism were reported by Muslim Americans themselves to law enforcement.
I urge my congregation to study Islam from authentic sources and to be vigilant about the kind of company their children keep, in school, in their neighborhoods and online. However, I also worry about the effects of alienation and resentment caused by a presidential candidate referring to Syrian refugees as “rabid dogs” or by another presidential candidate declaring that Islam is not fully protected by the Constitution. I am alarmed by the fact that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were, outwardly, an average Muslim couple whose path to radicalization is far from clear. I also worry about the fact that the assault weapons and ammunition they had amassed were legally purchased.
I am determined, along with many of my co-religionists, to do everything possible to prevent any terrorist from ever harming any of my fellow citizens. I am also dismayed by the lack of recognition of the fact that the vast majority of victims of Daesh are Muslim. In such a context, the “us” vs. “them” narrative (with Muslims as “them”) is not only unhelpful but also dangerous.
To effectively combat terrorism, we must look closely, not only at the roots of extremist ideologies, and what gives them legitimacy in the eyes of some, but also at our own vocabulary in describing the issue.
The day after the San Bernardino killings, the president as well as media pundits were weighing the “possibility “ that it could be an act of terror.
Could a couple charging into a workplace party, slaughtering 14 people and wounding many others, and then engaging the police in a gun battle before finally getting killed themselves, be described in any other terms? Does a mass shooting have to be connected with Islam and Muslims before we classify it as terrorism?
For me and many other Muslim American leaders, combating extremism from the mosque pulpit goes hand in hand with working on issues that affect our cities and neighborhoods with people of other faiths. Such cooperation fosters greater understanding, a shared sense of belonging for all who dwell in this land and a dialogue on how we can work together to find solutions to our challenges.
Several Islamic centers in San Diego and across the country have dedicated directors of youth affairs to focus on the emotional and spiritual well-being of our youth. My wife runs a Girls’ Scouts group that many Muslim families want their daughters to be part of, to teach them the values of community and citizenship. These efforts are being pursued with renewed vigor across the U.S.
This is the reason I believe the correct response to terror is to work on the basis of defining a “we” that elevates our discourse in the search for solutions on the basis of a shared communal responsibility, that recognizes the humanity of all victims and that resists the temptation to hate and demonize.
Source:The San Diego Union Tribune