Muslim leaders in Philly decry extremism as ‘terrorist cult’

     Leaders and members of the Masjidullah congregation gather to share a message of love Friday afternoon. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Leaders and members of the Masjidullah congregation gather to share a message of love Friday afternoon. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Members of Philadelphia’s Islamic community are denouncing acts of violence and imploring the public to not link the actions of extremist groups to the city’s own Muslims.

    Religious leaders gathered Friday outside the mosque Masjidullah in West Oak Lane, to, as they put it, “dispel myths of the extremist attacks by so-called Muslim groups.”

    Last weekend, the self-described Islamic State claimed responsibility for a shooting outside a Dallas event where cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad were on display.

    The two gunmen who fired at security officials were shot and killed by police. The event was organized by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, the group behind the controversial anti-Islamic ads that appeared on dozens of SEPTA buses.

    Imam Mikal Shabazz said he worries local Muslims will be accosted or attacked, or that mosques will be vandalized, as a result of violence perpetuated by groups claiming to be Islamic. He said they’re not Muslims, but “a terrorist cult.”

    Further, Shabazz said, other Muslims need to root out those who turn to terrorism and violence under the name of Islam, mentioning the Texas shooters. 

    “Now, based on those actions, people view Muslims and the religion of Islam as if they are endorsing that, especially when Muslims don’t say anything about what these people are doing,” Shabazz said.

    The negative publicity generated by extremist groups could be opportunity to spread the word about what Shabazz sees as the real values of Islam.

    “Go buy a copy of the Quran, they’re very inexpensive, and read it for yourself,” Shabazz said. “Go buy a book about the life of prophet Mohamed and see what he actually stood for. He, like all the prophets who preceded him, was a man of peace and a man of love.”

    Michael Rashid, a former health care executive, was another speaker at the event.

    “For too long, people have defined Islam, and people have defined Muslims, and quite frankly, the Muslims have been too quiet about that,” Rashid said, adding that “99.9 percent of the Muslims in the world are peaceful, God-loving people.”

    Standing by the speakers with his little daughter, Warren Newton listened as he waited for his wife to leave a nearby library.

    He agreed with something highlighted by the speakers: It’s not an easy time to be a Muslim.

    “Definitely they get a bad rap,” Newton said. “I think they should stand up. If more of them stand up like that, then the extremists would have a problem.”

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