Detroit area group tackles rise of radical Islam

George Hunter
The Detroit News

An Islamic youth organization wants to educate the public about why some young Muslims turn to extremism, and how terrorists’ ideology represents a twisted view of the religion.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association of Metro Detroit on Wednesday hammered home the points during a seminar titled “Stop the CrISIS” at the Rochester Hills Library. About 50 people attended.

The seminar was “geared toward understanding the topics of youth radicalization and Islam,” said Mahir Osman, vice president of the group, which is one of more than 70 AMYA chapters nationwide.

“A lot of times youth who are frustrated with the world as they see it become radicalized,” he said. “We’ve seen (terror attacks) in San Bernardino and Chattanooga, and the elephant in the room is, many of the individuals carrying out these attacks were, in fact, Muslim.

“That’s why we want to address what the true teachings of Islam are, and compare it with what extremists are teaching, which is why we came up with this campaign.”

Hamza Ahmed, the group’s secretary of education, asked: “Who would have thought there would come a time in this country that a boy next door would be planning a jihad? Americans, born and raised in our country, who we may work with, go to school with, live next to, somehow became radicalized.

“According to CNN, almost 2,000 westerners have left for the Middle East to join extremist organizations,” Ahmed said. “This radicalization is a virus ... to defeat it, we must understand where it comes from.”

Osman touched on 11 points that describe what he called “true Islam,” and compared them with how terror groups like the Islamic State interpret the Quran.

“We’ve all heard ‘Kill the infidel,’ but the Holy Quran said ‘Whosoever killed a person, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind,’” Osman said.

Osman said extremists wrongfully interpret the Quran to push their agenda, which includes discriminating against women.

“Nobody would believe that Muslims treat their women (with respect), and we’ve heard of some (Muslims) stopping women from going to school. But that’s not what the Quran teaches; it says women should be educated.”

Osman also explained that the Quran advocates the separation of mosque and state — a severe departure from extremists calling for Sharia Law.

“The Quran teaches that an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab; and a non-Arab has no superiority over an Arab,” Osman said. “If these extremist groups believe they’re the only ones who will enter into heaven, they’re sorely mistaken.

“The Holy Quran says ... anyone who does good deeds will (enter heaven). Extremist groups do not believe that.”

Yahya Luqman, the group’s Imam of the Great Lakes Region, said young, poor people who feel isolated are ripe for being recruited by extremist groups.

“This has to do with socio-economics and politics,” Luqman said. “It provides radicalized individuals to vent their frustration. It causes people who are not Muslim to be afraid of Islam, and, internally, it causes Muslims to feel isolated and marginalized.

“A lot of the terrorists were not active, practicing Muslims. A lot of them were just individuals growing up in France, England and here in America. But something happened to cause them to find the ideology of these extremist organizations to be appealing to them.

“Whatever that ideology was, it empowered them beyond what they were feeling as marginalized individuals. So you have this vicious cycle.”

Rebecca Schaefer, 22, of Macomb Township said she wanted to learn more.

“For a long time, I’ve been interested in learning about people who are not like me,” Schaefer said, adding that Arab-Americans often are the victims of stereotyping. “A lot of people think anyone who looks like an Arab is a terrorist,” she said.

Osman said the best way to defeat extremism is to continue teaching true Islam.

“Ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas,” he said. “True Islam is a better idea ... that can dismantle ISIS’ ideology. The greatest danger they pose is the ideology they’re spreading all over the world, including America.