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Sept. 11 Message Challenges Young Imam

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Sept. 11 Message Challenges Young Imam

Sept. 11 Message Challenges Young Imam

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Last month, we met a young Muslim cleric named Sheikh Rashid Lamptey. He arrived in this country from Ghana five years ago. And earlier this year, he took over as imam at Dar Al Noor, a growing mosque in Manassas, Virginia.

As part of our series on the next generation of faith leaders, NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty visited the imam as he prepared for one of the most delicate anniversaries that Muslim Americans face.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Sheikh Lamptey has been wrestling with his particular sermon for weeks now. This is not just any Friday sermon, after all. It's the one just before Sept. 11th.

Sheikh RASHID LAMPTEY (Imam, Dar Al Noor Mosque): A day of great disaster to the entire country, and the Muslims as well, actually. And so it is a great deal - of great importance to me.

HAGERTY: The young imam jumped from his chair, plucks a leather-bound Koran from the shelf and begins flipping though the pages. He's got the kernel of the sermon, now to find the verses.

Sheikh LAMPTEY: And that is in Koran Chapter 5 indicating that we are not permitted to kill. And whoever kills somebody intentionally, his reward is hellfire.

(Soundbite of Sheikh Lamptey's sermon)

HAGERTY: Four hours later, he's honed the message.

Sheikh LAMPTEY: Whoever kills somebody out of aggression and hatred, Allah will cause that person to taste hellfire. This is what Allah says. (Arabic spoken).

HAGERTY: Imam Lamptey paces in front of 300 men and women who sit on the mosque floor in rapt silence. Bombing buildings in America violates a central law of Islam, he says. But more than that, it rains down punishment on every innocent Muslim in this room.

Sheikh LAMPTEY: We hate stereotyping. We hate to be treated as different people. We are citizens of the United States of America and we want to be treated as such. Let us also behave like citizens of the United States of America.

HAGERTY: A true believer is a model citizen, he says. After the sermon, the crowd gathers around him like a rock star, waiting for a chance to talk. Member Tareq Kakar says he heartily agrees with the sermon. But as the dreaded anniversary rolls around for the 6th time, he's weary of guilt by association.

Mr. TAREQ KAKAR (Member, Dar Al Noor Mosque): We still have to look over our shoulder.

HAGERTY: What do you mean by that?

Mr. KAKAR: I've had eggs thrown at my car. They definitely are making more comments about my wife. And that's unfortunate.

HAGERTY: Kakar says when you add to the 9/11 anniversary the 2008 political campaign, you have a perfect storm of anti-Muslim rhetoric. Today, most of the congregants are rankled about a comment that Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo made on a Florida radio station, barely noticed in the U.S. media, when he was asked how he would handle the threat of nuclear terrorism.

Representative TOM TANCREDO (Republican, Colorado): If this happens in the United States and we determine that it's a result of extremist fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites.

Unidentified Man #1: You're talking about bombing Mecca?

Rep. TANCREDO: Yeah.

Ms. MUBARIKAH FARUK (Member, Dar Al Noor Mosque): If he is thinking bombing Mecca, then he has another thing coming and is he ready for that? If you are trying to provoke Muslims, you're doing half the job because they're already provoked.

HAGERTY: Mubarikah Faruk, an active member of the mosque, says candidates should be courting Muslims, not tarring them.

Most of the congregants here say the imam hit just the right note in his message, but not all. A young man approaches Sheikh Lamptey. He mentions a movie called that claimed that the U.S. government carried out the 9/11 attacks.

As a small crowd forms around the two men, the imam cuts him off. Muslims perpetrated 9/11 and other terrorist acts, he says, and that is anathema to Islam.

Sheikh LAMPTEY: We fight those who fight us. We don't go out there and look at people who are not fighting us and we throw things and then kill them.

Unidentified Man #2: (Arabic spoken)

Sheikh LAMPTEY: I'm educating the Muslims not to even condone that. That is not what our religion teaches.

HAGERTY: Later, I asked Lamptey if he was surprised to hear this theory here at Dar Al Noor, whose members are highly educated and mainstream.

Sheikh LAMPTEY: I wasn't surprised. In fact, I expected a lot of opposition from some people, but fortunately, it seems my message went home.

(Soundbite of chanting)

HAGERTY: As they kneel in prayer, some six years after that pivotal day, the imam's message to his fellow believers is this: The way to win over Americans is not with violence but with faithfulness and patience.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

NORRIS: You can hear other stories on our series about young faith leaders at npr.org.

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