WASHINGTON (RNS) American Muslim leaders said they stand against terrorism committed in the name of Islam, trying to distance themselves from the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings who were identified as Muslims with ties to Chechnya.
“We will never allow ourselves to be hijacked by this attempt, and we will not allow the perception to be that there is any religion in the world that condones the taking of innocent life,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
As the manhunt intensified in and around Boston, Muslim leaders convened a press conference Friday (April 19) to denounce the attacks and to urge the media not to link their faith with violent extremism.
Authorities say brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, planted the bombs at the Boston Marathon on Monday before going on a deadly rampage across the city in the early hours of Friday morning. The older Tsarnaev was killed in an exchange of gunfire with police while his younger brother fled.
Officials say the Tsarnaev family is originally from Chechnya, a restive region whose civil war with Russia has spawned waves of extremists. It remains unclear, however, whether the Tsarnaev brothers identified as militants for Islam.
Imam Benjamin Abdul-Haqq of Washington’s Masjid Muhammad mosque, said identifying as a Muslim is different from acting like one.
“Just because they say they’re Muslim doesn’t make them Muslim,” Abdul-Haqq said at the press conference convened by CAIR and other leading Muslim groups. “These are criminal acts, not religious acts.”
American Muslim leaders have gone to great lengths to stress that their religion does not condone violence and that terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam contradict the faith. Muslim groups appealed to Americans not to rush to judgment and not to lash out at innocent people.
“Every faith has within it heretical elements, and unfortunately some young people will listen to those elements,” said CAIR spokesman Corey Saylor. “What you’re looking at now is a force that is pushing back against that loudly and clearly.”
The Muslim leaders from CAIR, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Society of North America and other groups expressed frustration that they are once again being forced to defend their faith against the actions of extremists.
“As a Muslim American community, we should not be held accountable for the acts of any individual,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America.