SHAFAQNA – The president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, Usama Shami, discusses with Shafaqna the attack in Texas.
You knew Elton Simpson, one of the men who died attacking a cartoon contest in Texas. What were your impressions of him?
At the time I met him, he seemed to be nice, polite and respectful.
ISIS claimed responsibility. Did that surprise you?
No, because the two individuals acted in the name of ISIS, so ISIS took advantage of that, using this incident to scare people into believing that their influence can reach even inside the United States.
How do people like Simpson come to be radicalized?
I think the how is easy. The internet is full of material that can radicalize people, and in the majority of these cases, radicalization happens outside mosques to individuals who are ignorant about their faith.
The harder question is the why. The trend is that they are young, disillusioned, with no sense of belonging and have failures in their lives, so they blame the society and they want to punish it. To do that, they use religion to justify their actions.
Is there a way to prevent it?
Prevention needs to start with the youth by educating them about the dangers of extremism and about the tenants of the faith and how extremism contradicts the teachings of Islam.
Also Muslim (and probably non-Muslim) parents need to actively and openly talk to their children about their views and feelings about current events, and about websites that they visit.
An act like this can confirm the fears of people suspicious of Islam. How are your mosque’s members reacting?
I believe that fear and stereotype is not shared by everybody. The mosque’s members are always reminded to dispel suspicions and misconceptions by adopting in their lives the tenants of their faith that teaches to be kind to others and to respond to an evil action with a good action.
Popular culture sometimes mocks Christianity, but no one dies. Why do some Muslims seek to kill those who draw Mohammed?
One of the characters of the righteous in the Quran is “when the ignorant addresses them (with bad words), they respond by saying ‘Peace!’ “
Extremists would like to promote that the killing of others that offend Muslims is acceptable, however, Islam teaches that all prophets, including Prophet Mohammad, were mocked and harmed during their lives and their response was to ask God to forgive and guide people that harmed them.
Muslims are taught to take prophets as examples in their lives and Muslims should follow the example of prophets in forgiveness.
What do you wish more people understood about your religion?
Islam is an extension of other monotheistic faiths and has similar teachings. When the followers of Islam properly understood its teachings and practiced them properly, they produced a great civilization that gave the world advancements in math, medicine, astronomy, philosophy and science.
I extend an invitation to anyone that would like to make up his or her own mind about the faith to come to the mosque and to meet a Muslim friend.