Newspaper article International New York Times

Confronting an Uncomfortable Reality ; U.S. Muslims Reach out to Address Questions about Islam and Violence

Newspaper article International New York Times

Confronting an Uncomfortable Reality ; U.S. Muslims Reach out to Address Questions about Islam and Violence

Article excerpt

Many American Muslims are now saying it is no longer enough to denounce terrorism and assert that Islam is a religion of peace.

Bassam Issa stepped in front of a crowded classroom of students this month at Southern Adventist University, a Christian college near here, for a presentation on being Muslim in Chattanooga -- recently named America's most "Bible-minded city."

Mr. Issa, a real estate developer and the president of his local mosque, was struggling with how to attack the assumption that Islam gives rise to terrorism. He knew that the association was strong: Only last July, here in Chattanooga, four Marines and a sailor were killed in a terrorist rampage by a young Muslim man who grew up in the community. Many people here now speak of that day, July 16, as "7/16," an echo of "9/11."

And just a week before Mr. Issa's visit to the college, there had been another attack, when a married Muslim couple killed 14 people and wounded 22 in San Bernardino, Calif.

"Every time something like this happens, we have national news media, local news asking us, what do we think?" Mr. Issa said.

President Obama recently challenged Muslims to speak out against extremism and build closer ties to know their non-Muslim neighbors. Aware of this, and compelled by the rise of both the Islamic State and anti-Muslim sentiment, many American Muslims here and across the United States are now saying it is no longer enough to denounce terrorism and assert that Islam is a religion of peace.

Instead, no matter how exasperated they may privately feel, some Muslims are beginning to publicly confront the uncomfortable questions that non-Muslims have about Islam and violence, and trying to provide answers, both through words and through the example of how they live their lives.

Here in the classroom, Mr. Issa told students to look beyond Islam to the deeper and more universal causes of violence. "What's happening right now is not religious, even though ISIS and Al Qaeda are covered as a religious thing," he said. "In reality, it's political."

Mr. Issa also spoke this month at the downtown public library with Boyd Patterson, an assistant district attorney, who self- published a book compiling verses in the Quran that could be used by extremists to justify violence and terrorism. The two held a forthright discussion about those verses, and why most Muslims do not read them as justification for terrorism because, Mr. Issa said, they were written in a very different historical context, when Islam was an upstart faith challenging the status quo, and are primarily prescriptions for self-defense -- not justifications for terrorism. …

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