Keeping the Faith
Muslim leaders say don’t paint Islam with broad brush
Local Muslims say the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings did not help efforts to convince Americans that their religion is one of peace, love and brotherhood.
“I think the language that the media uses has given individuals the impression of equating this religion with violence. Anyone that knows anything about the religion of Islam, they know that the religion of Al-Islam does not condone any kind of violence,” said Imam Irshad Hasan, who has led Winston-Salem’s Masjid Al-Muminun for more than 20 years. “…In my opinion, it’s just the act of somebody who has no value for the sanctity of human life. That’s not the action of a Muslim – that’s just the action of a deranged mind.”
Alleged bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev did, ironically, educate many about the vastness of Islam, the world’s fastest-growing second largest religion.
The Tsarnaev family are European Muslims from Dagestan in the former Soviet Union. The largely Muslim nation has been gripped by a long running bloody conflict between two Muslim sects. Muslims come in all colors and from every corner of the globe, but many in western culture still subscribe to what Hasan calls a “Crusaders mentality,” where Islam is the enemy. In cases of terrorism on American soil where there are no connections to Islam, such as the Newtown, Conn. shooting or the Okalahoma City federal building bombing, the religion of the perpetrator is not mentioned, Hasan noted.
“You never hear about them being Christian terrorists or them being white extremists,” he said. “…We as a society, we have to question ourselves as to why we make that association.”
While some in the community have rushed to judgment when it comes to Islam, others have gone out of their way to show their support for members of the masjid (another word for mosque), Hasan said. Following 9-11, he said he received more positive calls than negative.
Imam Nabil Elfallah said some members of his congregation at the Annoor Islamic Center in Clemmons expressed concerns about their safety and the safety of their respective businesses after it became clear that the alleged bombers were Muslim, but their fears were allayed as the days passed with no harassment or changes in their businesses.
“All of them, they were worried because they used to live here in the time of 9-11,” he said. “…(but) people are living their normal life; everything is okay.”
Elfallah, who moved to the U.S. from Morocco four years ago, was accosted for praying in New York’s Empire State Building once, but otherwise, he says he has been treated well by the American public. He wears traditional Islamic attire at all times, and says local folks react with curiosity, not fear, when they encounter him.
“People are very, very nice. They’re very open-minded, which makes me very comfortable being here in America,” he related.
Though his membership expressed reservations about how the media drawing connections between the bombers and Islam might affect them, Elfallah said he felt confident that the community would not judge them based on the actions of others.
“I feel like the American people, really they are great, great people. I feel like if that happened in some other country, the Muslims would not feel as comfortable as they are here… in the third world, this kind of thing can make a lot of problems.”
Imam Khalid Griggs, leader of the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, said some of his members reported motorists verbally harassing them as they left the mosque recently, but overall, things have been quiet. Hasan and Griggs, the only Muslim chaplain at Wake Forest University, have been at the forefront of interfaith relations in the city for years, teaching others about the faith and what it does and does not entail, hoping to promote understanding and reduce negative responses in the wake of events such as the bombing.
“As a American people, we are just so ready to scapegoat people and try to dump our social issues on someone other than ourselves, as opposed to claiming responsibility for the environment we have created in this country,” Griggs observed, adding that the national media has played a major role in perpetuating negative perceptions of Islam. “I think we all have to demand greater responsibility from the media not to promote negative stereotypes and make these kinds of dot connections before all the information is in.”
Allowing Muslims to continue to be marginalized and ostracized because of the acts of a few could create negative outcomes for the nation as a whole, Griggs said.
“Muslims have become synonymous with violence and bleeding as opposed to the charitable work and the helping of others that the majority of Muslims in this city and across the country do on a daily basis,” he said. “The unfortunate thing is that what is being created in my opinion is a platform by which American citizens will accept even greater erosion of our civil liberties because of the fear that, at any moment, something is going to happen.”