Mourners places flags at a growing memorial in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., July 16, 2015.
Mourners places flags at a growing memorial in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 16, 2015. Four Marines were killed by a gunman who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, before being fatally shot in an attack officials called a brazen, brutal act of domestic terrorism. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Chattanooga shooting stirs U.S. Muslims' concerns about radicalization

Mourners places flags at a growing memorial in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., July 16, 2015.

Mourners places flags at a growing memorial in front of the Armed Forces Career Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 16, 2015. Four Marines were killed by a gunman who opened fire at two military offices in Chattanooga, before being fatally shot in an attack officials called a brazen, brutal act of domestic terrorism. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tami Chappell

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) Addressing his congregation on the Eid al-Fitr holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez implored worshipers to combat Muslim extremism in the aftermath of a shooting rampage that killed five servicemen in Tennessee.

The suspect, a young Muslim who grew up in the Chattanooga area, also died in the gunfight on Thursday, the last day of Islam's holy month of fasting.

It was the latest reminder to American Muslims of the need to find ways to keep teenagers and young adults from being drawn to ideologies promoted by such groups as Islamic State, the militants also known as ISIS who control part of Syria.

"When they talk about Syria, when they talk about Tennessee ... what will they say about the American Muslim community?" Azeez asked the 2,000 congregants at the rented hall in Sacramento, California, on Friday.

He went on to rail against extremists, whom he said usurp the spirit of Allah for their own purposes.

The FBI is investigating the Chattanooga shooting as an act of terrorism, though law enforcement officials said it was premature to speculate on the gunman's motive.

Hours before the attack, the suspect, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, had texted his close friend a link to a long Islamic verse that included the line: "Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, then I have declared war against him."

Mainstream Muslim leaders around the world are concerned about the radicalization of young people, vulnerable to fiery rhetoric that frequently distorts the religion's true teaching.

In Britain, a well-known cleric developed a 900-page anti-extremism religious curriculum to be taught in Muslim schools. About 700 Britons are estimated to have traveled to Syria and Iraq, many to join ISIS.

In the United States, imams and other leaders regularly visit high schools and colleges, but finding the right message and approach has proved to be a delicate tightrope walk between religion and politics.

In Chicago, anti-extremist activist Ahmed Rehab lectures at schools and mosques, rebutting radical ideas point by point with Islamic theology. He said militant groups at best misread the Koran and at worst distort it when they say that Islam condones their violent behavior.

"When we're able to root our arguments that are counter-extremist in the authentic message of Islam, I think it's more effective," Rehab said.

Yasir Qadhi, a professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, and the AlMaghrib Institute educational organization, also emphasizes religious teachings to show that Islam condemns terrorism. But he goes step further, engaging his students in discussions of political issues facing Muslims in the United States and elsewhere, even though that can invite controversy.

"Simple condemnations are not going to get to the hearts and minds of these people," Qadhi said. It is important to acknowledge that young people are attracted to groups like ISIS because they are seen as standing up for oppressed Muslims, he said.

The cleric recognizes that his listeners may feel angry about Israeli-Palestinian relations or other flashpoint issues. He said he uses history and theology to combat extremism.

It's a stance that has earned Qadhi death threats from ISIS as well as some far-right Americans, with both sides saying he is too sympathetic to the other.


In Sacramento, Muslim leaders educate young people about broader social issues, including poverty, access to healthcare and racism, said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Through a leadership program run in cooperation with the state legislature, high school students learn about political engagement, such as lobbying, drafting legislation and what it's like to serve as an elected official.

"It's giving people an outlet," Elkarra said, "giving them a voice and the tools to make a difference."

Sacramento Muslims have also set up a hotline for people to call if they become anxious or stressed, said Irfan Haq, president of the Council of Sacramento Islamic Organizations.

A key problem, several imams said, is that people who become radicalized tend to stop coming to their mosques, preferring instead the company of militant recruiters and radical clerics.

In Arizona, for example, leaders at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix knew Elton Simpson, one of two men killed by police while attempting an attack at an anti-Islam event near Dallas in May. Simpson had argued with the mosque's imam over teachings he perceived as too liberal.

Then he disappeared.

"It doesn't match with the ideology and they stop coming," said Usama Shami, chairman of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. "And then you don't know what they are doing."

By Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Frank McGurty and Tiffany Wu


  1. There is a safe and easy solution for Muslims: Clean up your koran by removing the passages of horror and terror that drive your young men to do despicable acts.

  2. It is silly to read statements like, “[t]he FBI is investigating the Chattanooga shooting as an act of terrorism.” Let’s see, Muslim man, military facility attacked, automatic weapons… Do we really need an investigation to establish what common sense tells us? Sounds like another ZerObama approach so to dodge a reality check. Let’s stop the silliness, and get real. The Muslim religion was established to be spread by the sword, the Koran is clear on it.

  3. Does anyone realize that what Ronald wrote above is pure, 100% fact?

    The “radicalized” Muslims are the ones that do not slaughter the unbeliever. This is what is wrong with the “politically correct” crowd. Which has now grown to be the vast majority of the western population, they have stopped caring about knowledge.

    Hello? Muhammad did exactly as ISIS is doing. Violent Muslims are the ones following the prophet of Islam. But that is what happens in a totalitarian political power structure. All that can be done is to stand against Islam in every way imaginable. And that means being honest about Islam as the violent, anti-everyone else paradigm that it absolutely IS.

  4. Christianity has a large set of violent commandings too. It’s a very different religion sure, and less about terrorism now, but sure doesn’t have clean hands either. I say, toss the lot of them. Gods don’t need worship anyway.

  5. Say that to Christians about the bible too while you’re at it. Far from equivalent, but plenty of cleanup needed there too.

  6. Of course the Koran contains violent passages, but so does the Bible. As mainstream Muslims are facing “death threats from ISIS as well as some far-right Americans” when they take a stand against violence, they deserve the respect and support of all people of good will.

  7. Conservative Jews in the USA have rewritten/cleanuped the Torah/OT to reflect the myths therein.

    Thomas Jefferson did an analogous rewrite/cleanup of the NT. Ditto for the rewrite/cleanup of the NT by the Jesus Seminarians, Professor JD Crossan in his over 20 books on the historical Jesus and related subjects and Professor Gerd Ludeman in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 694-695.

    ” Thomas Jefferson omitted it (Revelation) along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he considered it (Revelation) as “merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.”

  8. ISIS is exposing the original form of Islam. During the Golden Age, Islam was moderated and humanized. The intellectual capital of the Earth was Baghdad, where Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, … scholars wrote, taught, and studied. Islam was the most tolerant religion in the World. However, this Golden Age was based on ignoring rather than following original Islam. This climate was destroyed by the Turkish invasions, and Muslim culture has been sliding downhill ever since. Today’s Muslims must either return to the tolerant intellectual attitude of the Golden Age, or Islam will self-destruct. This is already happening in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other places around the World. Islam must either modernize or die.

  9. @Burt,

    “Christianity has a large set of violent commandings too.”

    Care to present them?

    Now certainly, we have an atheist troll latched onto this website gurgling up one “parable” but can you show the “commands” from the murderous Jesus, to his followers, to slaughter the non OR anti-Christian?

    Please, enlighten us.

    And YES, I know the Apostles weren’t yet called Christians when they were learning what Jesus was teaching them. But as many times as I have read the Gospels, I have yet to encounter proselytizing via beheadings, hands chopped off and basic slaughter en masse. I must have missed those examples where Jesus led the way to that.

  10. Thank you,”Be Brave”…I strive mightily to be calm and polite on these sites when I hear silly nonsense spouted,but frankly,when I read the ill-informed foolishness of individuals like Burt…Here’s a thought,Burt…is it possible that competent Biblical hermeneutics is simply not your forte? I mean,just give it a thought,O.K.??

  11. The Torah is a book filled with such commands: don’t suffer witches to live, don’t suffer adulterers to live, don’t suffer heretics or unbelievers to live, etc…

    If one is a follower of Christ, then at least one of several possibilities follow, depending on your beliefs.

    The first is that Jesus is Yahweh. If this is true, then he either wrote or inspired the Torah which exhorts his followers to do these things.

    The second is that he is not Yahweh but condones the exhortations of the book, since he did not actively condemn behaviors that are commanded in the Torah but a scant few times.

    The third is that Jesus disregarded the Torah and so do his followers.

    This list is not exhaustive but does describe many Christians. Fundamentally, for Christians to be peaceful and lovable, they, like Muslims, must abandon their ancient traditions. If our generally peaceful, pluralistic nation is any indication, most already have.

  12. Number of Cruel or Violent Passages
    Bible 842
    Quran 333

    And see the detailed passages cited therein.

    So chew on that, if you are “brave” enough to face that truth. Actually, “Be Brave” your name is clearly just a self-exhortation to attempt to pull you out of your cowardly and dishonest ways, and it is clearly in vain.

  13. Here ha go.

    Deuteronomy 13

    6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. 9 You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

  14. Conservative Jews haven’t rewritten the Torah. The Torah you’ll find in Conservative synagogues is the same scroll of Masoretic Text as any Orthodox synagogue. The interpretation is different, and there’s more critical analysis, but nothing is excised the way Jefferson did.

  15. The Sacramento imam has the same name as the shooter? Seems like a coincidence the article would want to note.
    Also, could we stop with doublethink lines like “The FBI is investigating this as terrorism, but you shouldn’t speculate as to the shooter’s motives.” Well the FBI seems to think it’s terrorism — are we not allowed to? It’s as bad as the “There are no known connections to international terrorism in this terrorist incident, except for the fact that he travelled to the Middle East and came back radicalized.” Or is it domestic terrorism? Maybe some definitions of terms might help. #reutersfail

  16. Added information: NY Times review.

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob·a·bly Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

    The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation. “

  17. Ben, the Old Testament of the Bible was God showing the Jewish people in earthly ways, the eternal realities. Whenever we read those passages, it points to eternal Judgment, and what God will ultimately do to those who worship entities other than Himself. Back then Jewish people were very immature, a people who would never understand eternity, so He showed them how He thinks in more simple ways. When Jesus came, he cleared up all the confusion (Math 18:9).

  18. Your statement is plainly and obviously false, Greg1. That this debate is taking place is plain evidence that you are wrong re anything having been “cleared up” by your “god”.

    As for “eternal judgement” that you apparently fear so much, that just sounds like your wicked storybook god going for vengeance yet again. Your own beliefs seem to be based on fear of that. I won’t be such a coward as you are; any such god as yours that you claim works by threat of punishment gets a big f-off from me.

  19. Bernardo, the book review you posted proves my point. The review is discussing the then-new Etz Hayim chumash of the Conservative movement. (Chumash, from chamesh, “five,” contains the Pentateuch or five books of Moses, split into each week’s reading, plus the prophetic readings for each week, plus translation and commentary). Etz Hayim contains modern critical commentary and exegesis. But the NYT’s calling it a “new Torah and commentary” is a little misleading. It does sayh Torah and Commentary on the side, and it is new Torah in the sense that all new commentary on the Torah is new Torah, but the text of the Torah remains the same. Even for the historically or socially problematic parts like Lev. 18:22. On a side note, the anodyne halachic statement on that verse, cited in the article, came four years before the Conservative movement held that Lev. 18:22 and the corresponding Lev. 20:13 prohibit only the plain meaning of the verse: anal sex between males.

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