WASHINGTON — A top White House official accompanied Muslim political and religious leaders as they repeatedly denounced the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terror group during a Wednesday press conference.
The press conference took place hours before President Barack Obama was expected to begin an extended campaign against the Islamic States, which cites Islamic theology to justify its attacks on the Iraqi government and unarmed civilians, and its murders of journalists.
But the Islamic leaders admitted that Americans Muslims are joining the jihadi groups, and that they need to step up their theological arguments against the jihadis’ use of pro-jihad language in Islamic’s primary book, the Koran.
“In this country, we are having a challenge right now,” said Johari Abdul Malik, the outreach direct at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, in Fall Church, Va.
“Young men are feeling frustrated, seeing the the death and destruction around the world, and saying ‘What can I do about it,’ and as a result of that, some of them have been deceived into thinking there is shortcut to social change, that it comes from the barrel of a gun,” he said, adding that he works with other Muslims to contain radicalism.
The top White House official, Rand Beers, told the meeting that “it is absolutely critical that civic engagement and discourse be a part of this” effort to prevent radicalization of Muslim youth.
“Countering violent extremism in this fashion is an absolutely integral part of any effort to deal with violent extremism, and it goes down to communities, to faith-based leaders, to friends and families,” he said.
Beers’ boss, Obama, is widely expected to launch a slow-motion, multi-pronged offensive against ISIS, which will include participation by Muslim government to help undermine ISIS’s legitimacy in the eyes of Muslims.
The press conference at the National Press Club was attended by more than 10 Islamic leaders, and was organized by the D.C.-based Muslim Public Affairs Council. The council works with officials in the Obama administration.
The meeting included a range of Islamic leaders, including officials from the Islamic Society of North American and the al-Hijrah mosque. Anwar al-Awlaqi, a notorious al-Qaida Imam, worked at the al-Hijrah mosque before and during the 9/11 atrocity.
The meeting excluded representatives from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, five of whose employees have faced terror-related charges.
However, it also excluded Islamic modernizers, such as Zuhdi Jasser, the founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.
Several attendees said the growing association of Islam with violence is undermining Islam.
“If we don’t do something now … the [violent] images will be the world’s perception of us for years to come,” said Faizul Khan, the imam at the Islamic Society of Washington, and a board member of the Islamic Society of North America.
The terror attacks have “brought shame on our religion,” said Mohamed Magid, the Imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and mosque.
“Violent extremism is not a pervasive problem within the American Muslim community, yet the impact is huge,” said Haris Tarin, director of MPAC’s D.C. office.
Most of the officials at the meeting simply denounced ISIS and various jihadi groups, and did not offer a theological criticism of the jihadis’ claim that their actions are commanded by Allah.
“Please do not listen to this ideology,” said Magid, who latter added that he is writing a tract that uses Islamic theology to criticize ISIS.
But several acknowledged that the Islamic theologians have to work harder to persuade American and Arabs that Islam does not justify terrorism.
“The problem we’re facing with a group like ISIL and al-Qaida is the public, the mass public,” said Mohamed, one of the speakers at the event.
In the Middle East, “the public cannot distinguish who is the theologian and scholar, and who is just a random person able to quote a religious text. … The public will view him as an authority,” he told the Daily Caller.
Several of the attendees insisted that Islam promotes peace, and cited part of a paragraph from the Quran to support their claim.
“Whoever kills a person unjustly, it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind,” says the section, which is also cited by MPAC and the Fiqh Council of North America, which is the top Islamic theological authority in the United States. The paragraph is also cited in a tract by the Islamic Society of North America.
But the next paragraph in the Quran says Islam’s deity, Allah, endorsed violence against those who cause religious or civil “corruption.”
“The penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land,” says the Quran.
That passage was echoed by an Islamic advocate, Anjam Choudary in an August interview on CNN where he justified ISIS’s killing two American journalist.
But another invitee, Florida political activist Ahmed Bedier, insisted that terrorism by Muslims can’t be blamed on Islam.
“Islam is not the problem, Islam did not produce ISIS. … Islam is the solution for those communities. … It is the failed [U.S.] policies that are the problem,” Bedier declared, while the White House official, Beers, crossed his arms and looked at the floor.
Most of ISIS’s leaders were “born in Abu Ghraib,” the former U.S. prison in Iraq, Bedier insisted. Any solution must go beyond airstrikes, he said, adding that “just because they are flying a flag with Allah on it, doesn’t make them Muslims.”
Beers, however, kept his eyes on the floor.