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Local Muslim leaders say the rising number of groups, such as ISIS, ISIL or the Islamic State, citing texts from the Muslim holy book, the Quran, to justify their terrorist campaigns have made it harder for these sacred teachers to explain what their religion is — versus what it is not.

In the wake of remembrances last week of the 2001 attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that claimed almost 3,000 lives, these leaders insist Islam is not the culprit even as terrorists use Islam as the basis for their war. In their view, the terrorists who carried out the attacks and ISIS are nothing but criminals and should not be seen as representing Islam.

But the gruesome killings, kidnappings and destruction by ISIS makes the debate over Islam and terrorism even more complicated. Six years ago, President Barack Obama sought to untangle the issue during a speech at Cairo University in Egypt where he said that America was not at war with Islam.

“In Ankara, I made clear that America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam. We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security — because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as president to protect the American people,” Obama explained to the Muslim world.

Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, spiritual leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, one of the largest mosques in North America that occupies a former church building, said that since 9/11, Islam has been viewed as a terrorist ideology which should not be the case.

“Certainly the tragic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and other targets was a crime not only against America but, also against Islam and humanity. Read the Quran carefully and do navigation over this ocean of wisdom. Don’t blame Islam for the evil actions of its enemies,” Elahi said. “The terrorists massacre Muslims thousands of times more than non-Muslims. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim men, women and children were killed in Iraq and Syria by those terrorists.”

Elahi, is an influential cleric beyond the borders of the United States. Earlier this month Iranian authorities granted him permission to visit Amir Hekmati, 32, a U.S. Marine veteran who is the longest American prisoner held in Iran.

Elahi said Muslims in Dearborn and throughout the states want to be seen as part of the larger American society.

“We want to be viewed as American citizens like everyone else. We deserve the same respect, appreciation and protection,” Elahi said. “Muslims have been contributing to this country in all areas of education, health, business, politics, media and faith and family values. We don’t deserve to be viewed as ‘other.’ We are part of the solution not the problem.”

Abdulhakem Alsadah, president of the Dearborn-based National Association of Yemeni Americans, agrees.

“American Muslims have been in this country for as long as America has existed, and therefore need to be treated fairly and justly like anybody else. We have more in common with American values than most would like to admit. We are not sojourners, and we all have common ground and mutual interests which provide a basis to co-exist and respect each other,” Alsadah said. “We are the same neighbors, friends and co-workers that have been here long before al-Qaida or ISIS. American Muslims are fighting for this country every day, and for freedom around the world.”

Whether it is the terrorists who shout “Allahu Akbar” in Islam meaning “God is Greater,” before they engage in suicide bombings and other acts of terror or young Muslims who are often recruited by terrorist organizations, the narrative that Islam is the main draw for terrorists who murder innocent lives remains a challenge for Muslim leaders.

“There are more wars and conflicts in the Muslim world than ever before and unfortunately, for American Muslims and Arab-Americans conflict over there means more scrutiny, bigotry and isolation for them here at home,” Alsadah said.

The census doesn’t collect information on religion but several estimates have put the population of American Muslims at seven million.

Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the identity of Muslims in America is directly rooted in American history.

“Muslims have been in this country since the first enslaved Africans were brought here. Muslims since then have influenced the American way of life in particular relating to our collective culture and our recognition of civil rights,” Walid explained. “Morocco (a Muslim nation) was the first country to recognize the independence of America from Britain. Thomas Jefferson explicitly recognized the religious rights of Muslims.”

Some have cited major figures like civil rights leader Malcolm X and boxing great Muhammad Ali, both of whom converted to Islam, as examples of the influence Muslims have had in the nation.

Walid added: “There’s even a depiction of Prophet Muhammad in the main chamber of the U.S. Supreme Court as one of the lawgivers that influenced American jurisprudence. Those who look at Muslims purely through the lens of terrorism are most likely unaware of American history as it pertains to Muslims much less world history.”

On the question of how Muslims have fared under the Obama presidency, Alsadah said he is disappointed because the president hasn’t done much to allay the concerns of Muslims in America.

Obama, meanwhile, challenged Muslim leaders in February to do more in his remarks during the closing of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.

“So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam,” Obama said. “Everybody has to speak up very clearly no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.”

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.

“Every religion calls for love and peace. Yet every religion including Christianity and Islam have been used to justify bloodshed and barbarism.”

_ Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, Islamic House of Wisdom, Dearborn

“We have more in common with American values that most would like to admit. We are not sojourners, and we all have common ground and mutual interests which provide a basis to co-exist and respect each other.”

_ Abdulhakem Alsadah, president, National Association of Yemeni Americans

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