Imam Mustapha Elturk, right, of Warren, representing Sunni Muslims, and Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, left, representing Shiite Muslims, sign the Muslim Code of Honor by Shia and Sunni Imams. Tuesday, Imams held a meeting at the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Dearborn Heights — As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches and sectarian fighting continues in Iraq, Metro Detroit religious leaders are taking additional steps to prevent violence from breaking out at home.
Following up on a gathering last week, imams and other community leaders met Tuesday at the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights to continue formulating a strategy to promote peace among both Sunni and Shiite sects and to present a united front while addressing worshippers during services marking the start of Ramadan.
Imam Husham Al-Husainy, director of the Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn, said the task is like “trying to put a lid on a volcano.”
“It’s a meeting to promote unity in the community,” he said. “We are sad about what’s going on. These are our children and our families.”
A rash of violence has broken out in Iraq as a group of organized insurgents calling themselves the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has seized border crossings and towns. Anger directed at the majority Shiite government is thought to have fueled the ongoing insurgency.
Iraq’s population is about 60 percent Shiite Muslim. Leaders from that branch of Islam rose to power with U.S. help after the 2003 fall of former president Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-dominated regime.
The United Nations said Tuesday at least 1,075 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Iraq so far this month, the highest death toll since the U.S. military withdrew from the country in December 2011.
The imams in Metro Detroit were clear that both sides have been involved in the killings and they denounced the violence in general.
“We are against murder, we are against killing, especially innocent children and women and men,” said Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, who co-chairs the Imams Council of the Michigan Muslim Community Council.
Although The Detroit News was not allowed to sit in on the meeting of imams, some spoke afterward about the strategy.
“We view this as a political issue, not a Sunni or Shiite issue,” said Imam Mustapha Elturk, who also co-chairs the Imams Council. “We would like to protect our community from sectarian violence. It has no place in our community.”
Insurgents in Iraq have been appealing to youth through advertisements and messages, particularly on the web, in an attempt to recruit fighters from the U.S. and other countries. Elahi said the imams want to warn families of these attempts “to brainwash our youth.”
More than two dozen area imams affirmed the Muslim Code of Honor, a pact that was signed in 2007 amid concerns about vandals who shattered windows at three mosques and a dozen businesses along Warren Avenue in Dearborn. The religious leaders are once again looking to the pact to promote unity and maintain dialogue.
An estimated 81,500 people identify themselves as Muslims in Metro Detroit, according to a 2010 survey by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. Of those, about 21,400 said they regularly attended religious services, making the region the eighth-most populous for Muslims in the U.S.
On Friday, the day when most practicing Muslims attend services, the imams will spread the message. Because Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, charity and reflection, begins Saturday night, they are expecting large crowds to turn out. It will be the perfect platform for sharing the message, said Elahi, head of the Islamic House of Wisdom.
“Our religion Islam is for peace and unity,” he said. “Anybody that is using religion to go against peace is against Islam.”
The Associated Press contributed.