American Muslims rebut the influence of militants

A recent spate of arrests of Muslims
accused of terrorism in the United States has revealed that many of them were
radicalised by militant preaching they found on the Internet.

Now nine influential American Muslim
scholars have come together in a YouTube video to repudiate the militants’
message. The nine represent a diversity of theological schools within Islam,
and several of them have large followings among American Muslim youths.

The video is one indication that American
Muslim leaders are increasingly engaging the war of ideas being waged within

“We need to shepherd our own flock and to
say that, theologically, these things are unacceptable,” said Imam Suhaib Webb,
the educational director for the Muslim American Society, a grass-roots group
in Santa Clara, Calif., who is among the nine in the video. “The Prophet Muhammad,
when on the battlefield, saw that amongst the enemy there were innocent women
and children killed, and he was openly angry. He is prohibiting us from killing
the innocent. It is very clear.”

Webb said in a recent interview that as a
white convert from Oklahoma, he had become deeply alarmed in the past year at
the number of converts who had been arrested on charges of planning or carrying
out violence in the name of Islam.
In July alone, one American convert in Virginia and another in Alaska who were
arrested and accused of having ties to terrorism were both said to have been
influenced by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born militant cleric now hiding in
Yemen who maintains an active website.

Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of
Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, who is also in the video, said,
“We’re hoping that that loner out there who, because of internal turmoil,
starts listening to the wrong people, that this message also filters into his
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist
Radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said of the video:
“It can be a powerful outlet. It is the kind of thing that, format-wise, is
matching what’s being done by the jihadist groups.”

Among the nine are several converts to
Islam who are popular because they are steeped in both American culture and
Islamic scholarship. They include Sheik Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir,
scholars who have founded Zaytuna College, an Islamic seminary in Hayward,

The video, which is about five and a half
minutes long, opens with ominous music, like that used in some of the
jihadists’ propaganda videos, and the words, “Believers Beware: Injustice
Cannot Defeat Injustice.”

“Many people are saying that there are so
many issues of injustice taking place around the world,” Imam Mohamed Magid,
leader of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, a mosque in Virginia, says in the
video. “That is true, we acknowledge the injustice taking place around the
world. But we believe there is a way to address the injustice – not by taking innocent
people’s lives.”

Edina Lekovic, director of policy and
programming for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the advocacy group that
produced the video, said they intentionally chose scholars who represent a
diversity of theological streams.

“We didn’t want to just target the liberals
or the conservatives or ultraconservatives,” Lekovic said. “The point was to
show that no matter where you stand on the religious spectrum, we all have a
shared belief and shared outrage by the events that are taking place.”

She said the only criticism the council had
received was that there were no female scholars in the video – a fact she
attributed to scheduling problems. She said the council expected to make
another video that will include women.

Magid said in an interview: “This is the
beginning of a greater effort. Imams have to be virtual imams, answering
questions on the Web, having blogs. We have to have open discussions for youths
to talk about what is frustrating them.”

Among the nine are several converts to
Islam who are popular because they are steeped in both American culture and
Islamic scholarship.