Muslims Combating Extremism


BOB ABERNETHY, host: A new report this week from the former heads of the 9/11 Commission says US authorities have not done enough to address the threat of homegrown terrorism. It urged new systems be put in place to counter radicalization. Kim Lawton reports that several leading US Muslim groups are already trying to confront those concerns with new efforts to prevent extremism from taking hold in their communities.

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: It’s late afternoon in Manassas, Virginia, not far outside Washington, DC, and at the Dar al Noor mosque they’re getting ready for a good all-American barbecue. The picnic is part of a new national initiative from the Muslim American Society called the Straight Path Campaign. It’s one of several new projects being launched by US Islamic groups in an effort to fight extremism within their community, particularly among young people.

IMAM MAHDI BRAY, Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation: We want them to say to America and prove to America through their efforts that, you know, we’re not terrorist suspects. We are America’s brightest prospects.

post02-extremismLAWTON: According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, Americans hold conflicted views about whether Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Forty-two percent of those surveyed said that Islam does not encourage violence more than others, but 35 percent said it does. Almost a quarter said they didn’t know. The survey also found that almost 40 percent of Americans said they had an unfavorable view toward Islam. That’s a significant increase from just five years ago.

Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many American Muslims say it’s become increasingly difficult to counter the perception that their faith is linked to violence, and that job has been complicated by some recent high-profile terrorism-related arrests of Muslim Americans, including several who were born or raised in the US.

EDINA LEKOVIC, Muslim Public Affairs Council: The fact that there has been a string of incidents presents a reality that we cannot afford to ignore, regardless of whether it’s emanating from our own homes, or our own mosques, or our own communities.

LAWTON: A Duke University study released earlier this year found only a relatively small number of US Muslims who had planned or carried out terrorist attacks. The study concluded “homegrown terrorism is a serious, but limited, problem.”

post03-extremismBRAY: One is one too many, and so we have zero tolerance for that kind of seductive narrative and that seductive type of presentation that lures young people into things that will ultimately ruin their lives.

LAWTON: One of the first priorities for mainstream US Muslim groups has been trying to fight extremist messages online, including many from foreign-based English-speaking Americans.

Al-Qaeda Online Video: “I am calling on every honest and vigilant Muslim, unsheathe your sharpened sword and rush to take your rightful place among defiant champions of Islam…”

SALAM AL-MARAYATI, Muslim Public Affairs Council: What happens in extremist groups is that really there’s a cult mentality. There’s blind following of a charismatic leader, these pied pipers that are speaking to us now on YouTube from caves and jungles and war zones that are trying to glamorize violence. That’s basically what we’re dealing with.

post04-extremismLAWTON: Hoping to offer a different view, American imam Suhaib Webb has set up his own Web site where he challenges radical statements and answers questions about Islamic teachings.

IMAM SUHAIB WEBB: You know the Prophet, peace be upon him, said “If the day of judgment starts and you have a seed in your hand, plant that seed.” Stay positive. Never allow yourself to succumb to that negative discourse.

LAWTON: He’s been urging other Muslims to tackle the issue of extremism head on as well.

WEBB: If you’re not going to take the position, someone else will take that position for you. If you’re not going to step up to the mic, someone else is going to grab it and spit. That’s just the reality.

LAWTON: Webb says a major problem is that many of the radical Web sites twist and misrepresent Islamic teachings, either intentionally or through ignorance. He was one of nine US scholars and imams who denounced extremism in a recent video produced by the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

post05-extremismLEKOVIC: Communities really need to focus on religious literacy so that our young people start at an early age knowing what the Quran actually says, and what the Quran actually promotes us to do, which is to be a part of society, to be contributing, and to be good to our families, and to be model citizens within whatever countries we live in.

LAWTON: With the Straight Path Campaign, the Muslim American Society is also trying to educate Muslim young people about the tenets of their faith. Imam Mahdi Bray draws from his own experience in the US civil rights movement and talks about the importance of nonviolence within Islam as well.

BRAY (speaking at mosque): Nonviolence, the sanctity of life, is valued, and it’s not the sanctity of Muslim life. It’s the sanctity of all life.

LAWTON: The campaign is holding a series of meetings with youth and youth leaders across the country to discuss violence and Islam, and also how to address injustice and discrimination in positive ways. Bray says it’s important not to dismiss the very real concerns and frustrations among young Muslims.

BRAY: Providing young people with skill sets and tools that embrace nonviolence but at the same time doesn’t give them the feeling that they’re just rolling over and that they’re not really fighting back against some of the injustices that they see every day in their lives both here and abroad.

post07-extremismAL-MARAYATI (speaking in meeting): We don’t separate Islam from politics. This is actually an act of worship for us.

LAWTON: The Muslim Public Affairs Council is trying to help young Muslims address their concerns through the political process. The group holds a Young Leaders Summit in Washington, where participants learn how government works.

AL-MARAYATI: It’s easy for somebody to exploit people’s angers and frustrations and lead them to destructive behavior, so our approach is promoting the theology of life within Islam—that Islam is meant to be a part of a pluralistic society.

LAWTON: The students see the mechanics of politics up close and get to meet with politicians, this year including Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Indiana Representative Andre Carson, the only two Muslims in Congress. Organizers say the experience gives young Muslims a new vision for what can be accomplished.

post08-extremismLEKOVIC: In a post-9/11 reality, they sometimes have a hard time believing that their own government and their own elected officials want to hear from them, or even care about their opinions, because what they see on their campuses and in their hometowns is a rising level of Islamophobia.

LAWTON: The various projects are intended to be proactive against radicalism, but they have also provoked controversy. Several outsiders have accused the campaigns and their leaders of not being tough enough against extremism, while some Muslims fear the new initiatives could give the impression that the problem is bigger than it really is.

IBRAHIM HOOPER, Council on American-Islamic Relations: Some of the young people said, “Ah, yeah, before you get going on that, make sure it doesn’t portray us all as so-called radicalized,” that that’s a danger as well—to project something that isn’t there.

LAWTON: Some Muslims have accused Bray of perpetuating anti-Islamic stereotypes.

BRAY: There are some who say, oh, there’s no problem, everything is just fine, you know? Well, everything is not just fine.

LAWTON: American Muslim leaders say their young people, like young people of all faiths, are trying to figure out their identities, and, the leaders say, religion should be a culturally relevant part of the mix.

AL-MARAYATI: Islam is a religion that has a book that is supposed to be universal and is supposed to apply at different times. Therefore it is our responsibility to interpret the principles from the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet to America in the 21st century, and by and large that has not been done.

LAWTON: It’s a matter that hits all too close to home for students like these.

MATEEN RIAC: Saying that everybody, all Muslims are terrorists, I think that is like a big issue, so like it makes people feel left out, especially in schools, they’re like, “Wow, am I really like that?”

ATTIQAH SYEDA: The words “Muslim” and “terrorist” are not synonymous in any way, shape, or form.

LAWTON: And that’s the ultimate message they hope takes hold.

I’m Kim Lawton reporting.

  • Ronnie Bray

    Very few non-Muslims are aware that Muslims have consistently and loudly condemned militant violence, but, sadly, their voices have not been heard. How this can be addressed and changed is a matter for those in the medias and in politics and in the religious world that are persons of good will, who do not have axes to grind, and who are not afraid to stand up for the truth.

    I am a Christian that has a Muslim family for my dearest friends. They are as close or closer than my blood family. I know their hearts, their goodness, their faith, their generosity, and their love. there is nothing anyone can say or do that could ever cause us to be divided. It hurts me to hear people ignorantly and with ill-will slander and malign all Muslims because of the actions of an extremely small minority.

    It seems to be part of the human condition to create enemies where there need be none, and that despite the central tenets of all the world’s faiths recognising God’s call to truth, honesty, and moral absolutism.

    I invoke God’s blessings on men and women of goodwill in all faiths and in none, that recognise that we share our planet home, and share common goals however we choose to pursue them. We share a common humanity, and must recognise the rights of others to choose their paths as freely as we choose our own.

    Ronnie Bray

  • Channah

    The media prefers the sentationalism of Muslim extremists to sell the news. It is really disgusting. There are many Muslims who condemn extremism, spreak out loudly, but very few will print or cover the news on this. Most hear the rumors of what the Qur’an says, what Mohammed said, and it is these hateful things that persist. I doubt that many so called Christians know that Jesus isso respected and quoted so often in the Qur’an. And, why do people not realize that no matter what one calls their G-d, it is the one and the same.

    As long as there are radical preachers such as Robertson, Haggee, F. Graham, Haggard, etc., to fuel the fire of bigotry and hate, there will be those who will follow them. Then, I guess there are the same radicals on the Muslim side. G-d help us all.

  • Mujtaba Ahmed

    I think majority of the muslims condemns any sort of terrorist activities or theory. We don’t like violence at all, there is no justification for that. As a community we have got a problem, but governments are not sincerely addressing these issues due to whatever reasons they have. Governments are more responsible than the people. We could come to a solution if people from all faith sit together only for the sake of peace and our future generation. Religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc, is a matter of choice, it teaches you to live in peace and love, so be it.

  • salahuddin Ricky Kelly and hassan

    salamu alaikmu we need to come together as one community unpon the Qu’ran and sunnah in sha ALLAH and that is the solution to this problem.and ALLAH knows best

  • Umar

    When I saw the title “Muslims Combating Extremism”, I thought that perhaps this represented an awakening of opposition to the bigoted Palins, the teabaggers, the mosque firebombers and the assortment of other Islamophobic bigots that target Islam and Muslims for their hate. Instead, it’s another snivelling, cowardly defensive bromide to which no one will pay attention anyway.

    Until groups that claim to represent Islam in the US stand up and loudly and openly condemn the predator drone massacres of Muslim civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan; until they reject all candidates who support murdering Muslims either here or abroad; in short, until these groups develop a backbone and grow a pair, then emphatically they do not represent me.

    The largest of these groups is ISNA, which has about 30,000 people show up at its annual “Convention” (actually a bazaar). That’s down from 50,000 plus around 2000. There are between 6 million and 8 million Muslims in North America, so even that represents a tiny minority. And the 30,000 are not serious ISNA members, merely interested in marketplace activities.

    If Muslims act as passively towards the growing threats against Islam as did the Jews towards the grrowing threat of naziism in Germany, we will likely ultimately share their fate. Stop worrying about allaying the fears of know-nothing bigots and start standing up for our deen.

  • Ibn Yakzan

    The only way for Muslims to combat extremism, violence, intolerance and hatred is to grasp the distinction between the divine, ultimate wisdom of the Quran and the corruption of alternate sources of Islamic law that have suffered man’s deceit, greed and exploitation in the last 1400 years. Muslims must learn to use their minds and reflect on life before blindly following idolized figures.

  • RonaldB

    We seem to have a problem with alienated Muslim youth (youth being defined very broadly, as Faisel Shazhad, the wannabe Times Square bomber, was 31).

    The question is, why is it Muslims who are at particular risk to interpret religious fervor as a killing invitation?

    There is another question involving Muslims. At the moment, we are focusing on acts of terrorism and violence, which most US Muslim leaders denounce. Even the Muslim Brotherhood denounces acts of violence (as long as they are directed against someone other than Israelis). But, the real question is, do Muslims, as Muslims, defend the basis of the US Constitution, which is separation of religion and government. I don’t mean, are they willing to wait until they have enough political pull to change the Constitution through the process of amendment. I mean, are US Muslims willing to announce that they agree with the separation of religion and government, and renounce any interpretation of Sharia which involves the duty of government to enforce Sharia law?

  • Sher Mohammad

    Please contact me at myy email address. I live in Karachi/Pakistan. I will convey to your people some basic information about Islam, for instance how to seek from Allah Subhanahu one’s daily bread through righteous earnings and there is a stimulus in the Qur’an for multiplying ones income by 700 times. This was practiced by the Muslims during the Prophet’s 10 years life period in Medina. God says in the Qur’an that for those who spend ob charity in the love of God’s countinence in the hereafter, e multiplyies it by 700 times. This would erase poverty in your community. I will provide you lot of information on how to stand on your feet and improve your conditions.

  • Richard Palzer

    Many people, I included, have questioned why moderate Muslims are not speaking out against Islamic extremists. When a prominent journalis, writing at the same time as the most recent posts abovet posed this same question to his Muslim colleague, the response he received was that perhaps he wasn’t listening. But I wondered, too, that if virulent, in-no-uncertain-terms condemnation of the radicals who are hijacking Islam is indeed taking place, why is it not common public knowledge? Such repudiation certainly warrants publicity commensurate to coverage of the violation of peaceful Islam the extremists commit in its name. “Our best buffer against Islamic violence is Muslims themselves,” as one expert is quoted as proclaiming, reflects the most important and effective tool to combat the notion that Islam is the enemy. But such condemnation is obviously not making the headlines. As I said in response to the journalist, if he had to ask the question of his Muslim colleague about where the moderates are, we have a problem. Either they’re not sufficiently speaking out or not receiving adequate coverage when they do.

    Please, as a necessary part of your effort, directly and concretely as possible, identify those passages in the Qu’ran that the extremists are corrupting to justify their bloody deeds. The perception that your Holy Book condones, encourages, even mandates the destruction of “infidels” must be confronted–it doesn’t matter, for example, what the true meaning of “jihad” is if is perceived as “holy war” in the sense of licensing violence. Certainly, you’re astute enough to appreciate that perception can trump reality. Somehow, some way, peaceful Islam and moderates condemning the hijacking of their religion, need to become the common understanding.