Here's Why These Muslims Are Refusing To Criticize ISIS

Here's Why These Muslims Are Refusing To Criticize ISIS
RICHMOND, VA - MARCH 11: Imam Johari Abdul-Malik arrives early for the prayer he will deliver inside the House Chambers, Richmond on March 11, 2010. (Photo by Tracy A Woodward/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
RICHMOND, VA - MARCH 11: Imam Johari Abdul-Malik arrives early for the prayer he will deliver inside the House Chambers, Richmond on March 11, 2010. (Photo by Tracy A Woodward/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

American Muslim leaders gathered at Washington's National Press Club late last month to release a scathing 17-page letter to the Islamic State that distanced mainstream Muslims from the militant group's actions. But one prominent imam from Northern Virginia refused to give his endorsement.

"It sounded like they were apologizing for something they haven't done, like they were running for cover," Imam Johari Abdul-Malik said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

President Barack Obama has called on the world's Muslims to "explicitly, forcefully and consistently reject" the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, while Secretary of State John Kerry recently said that Muslims need to "reclaim Islam." In response, some of the largest Muslim organizations have issued sweeping condemnations of the militant group's extremism. The letter unveiled at the National Press Club had the signatures of 126 prominent Islamic scholars, including the grand muftis of Egypt, Jerusalem, Bulgaria and Kosovo.

But not all Muslims have engaged in these condemnations. Many have written blog posts and created social media campaigns to criticize what they see as Muslim institutions' knee-jerk instinct to decry faraway atrocities that are unconnected to their communities.

"Dr. King said we are all caught up in a network of mutuality -- whatever affects one directly will indirectly affect the other," Abdul-Malik said. "If I speak up against ISIS, it's because I'm a human being, not because I'm a Muslim."

Abdul-Malik has spoken frequently of the Islamic State in his Friday sermons at Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. His mosque is one of the largest Islamic prayer centers in the Washington, D.C. area, serving 3,000 worshippers each Friday.

"I talk about it because I want to tell our community to keep their heads up," he said. "I talk about it so young people don't get caught up in any false theology."

Abdul-Malik is one of many Muslims who have found themselves in an ongoing debate as global concern grows over the Islamist movement in Syria and Iraq. They're having lively conversations at mosques and universities, in living rooms and on social media about how much Muslims should condemn the Islamic State -- or if they should do so at all.

"When you ask Muslims to condemn or denounce heinous actions, ideologies or groups what you’re saying is that you don’t trust any Muslim," Sana Saeed, a San Francisco-based producer at the digital Al Jazeera channel AJ+, wrote in a recent blog post, "Why I Won't Condemn ISIS. "[Y]ou're saying that I can’t be trusted until and unless I vocalize dissent against an individual, an action, an ideology or a group that claims to do something in the name of a shared identity."

Saeed said she was "tired of people in my communities constantly partaking in and creating public campaigns to put up a good face of our religion." However, she added that she "can’t blame them for trying to show how they practice, envision and know Islam."

Maha Hilal, a 32-year-old Muslim activist and post-doctoral researcher in Arlington, Virginia, also agrees that Muslims at large should not feel compelled to defend Islam.

"When I am watching TV and I see pictures of ISIS fighters, I don't feel any relation to them, I don't feel any connection to their theology," said Hilal, who serves as the Director of Outreach and Member Engagement at the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. "I want Muslims to get to the point where we see an act of terror and don't have to think, 'How will I get blamed?'"

Hilal admits that it could be beneficial for American Muslims to forcefully condemn the extremists, given that negative views about Islam are widespread. A Pew Research Center survey released in September found that half of Americans believe Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence.

It's these kinds of views that spur Amanda Quraishi, a 40-year-old technical consultant and interfaith activist in Austin, Texas, to spend her spare time promoting positive images of Islam at community events and in online forums.

"There's a fine line between apologizing for ISIS and proactively contradicting false narratives about Islam," said Qureshi, who serves on the board of directors at several faith-based organizations. "We are at a point in time where we have to bear the burden of wide-scale fear and misinformation about our faith and the cultures of many of the people who practice it … I quite literally view it as our jihad."

For other Muslims, it's simply a religious obligation to condemn extremism.

"The prophet, peace be upon him, said the entire [Muslim world] is one human body. If one does something bad, it affects everyone. That's why it's our duty to speak out," said Imam Shafayat Mohamed, who leads the Darul Uloom mosque in Pembroke Pines, Florida. "It's not optional."

Mohamed said he talks frequently about the Islamic State at his mosque and on his online Islamic TV channel, Al-Hikmat. "We won't be punished on the day of judgement for others' crimes, but we will be questioned about whether or not we tried to stop people from committing them."

In response to the Islamic State's brutalities, British Muslims last month started a wildly popular social media campaign around the hashtag #NotInMyName, which Obama recognized in his recent United Nations speech. Muslims participating in the campaign posed with signs that say "Not In My Name" to denounce extremists who say they act in the name of Islam.

Hilal, Saeed and thousands of other Muslims expressed their views under a different banner, #MuslimApologies, in which Muslims sarcastically tweeted apologies for things that aren't offensive. Many of the tweets highlighted Muslim inventions, like algebra and kebabs.

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