More Muslim Groups Voice Willingness To Combat Extremism In Their Faith Many leaders are reluctant to say al-Qaida's or ISIS' terrorism has roots in Islam. But some Muslims say the time has come to acknowledge an extremist strain in the religion, and to combat it.
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More Muslim Groups Voice Willingness To Combat Extremism In Their Faith

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More Muslim Groups Voice Willingness To Combat Extremism In Their Faith

More Muslim Groups Voice Willingness To Combat Extremism In Their Faith

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One phrase we have not heard from the president this week is Islamist terrorism. He says associating Islam with terrorists gives them religious legitimacy they don't deserve. The trouble is this week's conference focused almost entirely on groups around the world who say they fight in the name of Islam. And even some Muslims say it may be time to speak bluntly about the links between Islam and terror. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: In the weeks leading up to the summit, administration officials struggled to say what exactly the conference was about. Here's White House spokesman Josh Earnest speaking last month.

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JOSH EARNEST: You know, violent extremism that's - in which individuals invoke the name of Islam, otherwise - an otherwise peaceful religion...

GJELTEN: Muslim leaders appreciated the administration's effort to avoid saying ISIS or al-Qaida are Islamic. Suggesting that Muslims are somehow the problem makes it easier to target Muslim communities. They also emphasized, as does the administration, that Islamic teachings do not support terrorism. But the most prominent terrorist groups are led by Muslims who say they're fighting for Islam. That's a problem, says Sayyid Syeed, of the Islamic Society of North America.

SAYYID SYEED: We wish that the name Islam was not associated with this phenomenon. We would just say that there is terrorism. But since they are deliberately using the Quran, misquoting the Quran, going through the traditions, we will have to say something, yeah.

GJELTEN: And what do you say?

SYEED: Well, (laughter)... Daesh. (Laughter).

GJELTEN: He laughs because Daesh actually stands for Islamic State in Arabic. In fact, some Muslims are entirely willing to talk about the problem of radicalism in their community. Here's Zainab Al-Suwaij, an Iraqi-American and executive director of the American Islamic Congress.

ZAINAB AL-SUWAIJ: I think it's very important to be clear about this message and to name it. When we talk about radical Islam, it does exist. And I don't need to be diplomatic. I think the message should be loud and clear. And this is not going to harm anyone. We are Muslims. We are feeling it. We're the first victims of it. I want the whole world to hear about it.

GJELTEN: That's the voice of someone who supports a reformation movement within Islam. Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, on the other hand, disagrees with those who say ISIS and other terrorists have hijacked Islam. People can misinterpret my faith, he says, but they cannot hijack it. ISIS leaders, Awad says, misinterpret Islam when they cite teachings from another era, like the seventh century.

NIHAD AWAD: That's the problem with these people. They want to impose the past on the present and on the future when, in fact, people have to look at the spirit and the wisdom of the text so that we apply it in a modern, sophisticated, logical way.

GJELTEN: Among the toughest questions debated in Muslim communities right now is what to do about extremists who stop just short of advocating violence. Mohamed Magid, chief imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Northern Virginia, was a guest at this week's summit. He contrasts the way he deals with a young man who's ready to go fight from one who just has an extreme idea.

MOHAMED MAGID: My responsibility as an imam, I try to correct his idea. If I find him to be a person who might pose danger to my community by trying to recruit others, then I have to exclude him from the community.

GJELTEN: And you do that? Have you done that?

MAGID: Of course. And we have to report him. If he have an idea that commit harm to America, we'll report him to the authority.

GJELTEN: There is one idea that unites the Muslims who participated in this week's summit and those who didn't come because they felt it unfairly singled Muslims out. If extremism in the Muslim world is to be addressed, they say, it'll have to be done by Muslims themselves, not by the U.S. government or any government, for that matter. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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