2015-12-23 / Home

Local Muslims step up role in combating radical Islam


Among those who attended the peace rally organized by South Jersey Muslim leaders were (from left), Ace Asim, Asim Shafi, Sumaiyya Asim and Rumaysa Asim. Among those who attended the peace rally organized by South Jersey Muslim leaders were (from left), Ace Asim, Asim Shafi, Sumaiyya Asim and Rumaysa Asim. A peace rally held earlier this month in Philadelphia is the first of several actions planned by South Jersey Muslim leaders to kick up the community’s role in combating terrorism and to play a more visible role in promoting peace and mutual understanding.

“We have to make sure our American brothers and sisters know that Muslims in America do not tolerate any forms of extremism,” said Asim Shafi, a Cherry Hill father of three from Pakistan who was a rally co-organizer. “ISIS is anti-Islamic and is actually causing harm to Islam. We believe we cannot let this happen. If anyone thinks American Muslims are for this, we have to work to correct that misperception.”

On Friday, Dec. 11, more than 200 people attended the Rally For Peace at the steps of City Hall. holding up signs with slogans like “Islam Means Peace” and “Terrorists Have No Religion,” they expressed condemnation of recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, CA, as well as sympathy and prayers for the victims of the heinous acts. A Facebook post on the Voorhees-based Pakistan- American Society of South Jersey urging both Muslim an non-Muslim participation explained the purpose of the public event this way: “In light of the recent events implicating Muslims everywhere for the heinous actions of un- Islamic terrorists, it is imperative that we act swiftly to portray the correct image of Muslims. Silence is not an option.”

Participants included Muslims from Pennsylvania and Delaware as well as non- Muslims, including a smattering of Jews, gays and lesbians, Sikhs and Hindus, said PASSJ President Owais Lari, a Cherry Hill resident.

In addition to the rally, leaders representing the newly formed American Muslim Community of Southern New Jersey released a statement pledging to initiate “concrete measures to combat the ideologies of violence and extremism that falsely profess themselves to be Islamic.” Among actions, the group— representing 10 or so local mosques and community groups—will work closely with law enforcement officials, monitor the religious education and activities of Muslim children and increase community outreach, such as participating more in neighborhood schools, civic associations and by collaborating more with churches and synagogues on common causes.

The statement, issued on Dec. 7, was shared through the Jewish- Catholic- Muslim Dialogue of Southern New Jersey. Shafi is a member of the dialogue, which is an offspring of Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council. He said that local Muslims are in unfamiliar territory in these uncertain times. Unlike Jews, they have never perceived themselves as a minority or felt threatened until recently. But anti- Muslim attacks and hate crimes—including an incident earlier this month in which a severed pig’s head was left outside a P

A scene from the peaceful rally in Philadelphia. A scene from the peaceful rally in Philadelphia.

hiladelphia mosque, are on the rise in wake of the recent high-profile terrorism attacks worldwide perpetrated in the name of ISIS and other radical Islamic terrorist groups. In fact, the rate of attacks has tripled since the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 by Islamic State operatives, with 38 reported crimes regarded as anti-Islamic in nature, according to the Center of the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Eighteen of the episodes have come since the shooting in San Bernardino on Dec. 2 by a Muslim couple who were supporters of the Islamic State that left 14 people dead.

Moreover, the response of some politicians, including presidential hopeful Donald Trump, to temporarily ban immigration of all Muslims has put local residents on edge.

“The mistrust we are feeling, we’ve never been in this kind of a situation before,” said Shafi, president of the South Jersey Muslim Community Center in Palmyra. “Here’s the challenge for Muslims: We come from backgrounds in which we are in the majority and have never had to play the role of a minority. We literally have no sophistication around it but we are open to learning.”

For many participants, the rally was the first time they’ve participated in such a public demonstration for a cause dear to their hearts, said Lari, who came up with the idea while watching media coverage of Trump’s Muslim immigration ban.

“I am not aware of any other country that welcomes diversity and tolerance more than America,” said Lari. “This welcoming attitude has allowed immigrants to feel at home and become proud Americans. We feel great in showing our allegiance to America and pray to God to bless America and its people.”

He said the dozen or so organizations that have come together to form an umbrella organization look to Jews as a model for uniting behind common causes. As a member of the Jewish- Catholic- Muslim Dialogue, he said, he has both an appreciation for what Jewish organizations have accomplished by rising above individual group differences and hopes that Muslims could accomplish the same.

David Snyder, JCRC executive director, said the JCRC is more than willing to help guide the organization. He noted that Shafi and other Muslim leaders have long worked with local interfaith groups and have consistently spoken out in condemnation of extremist ideologies.

“What we keep hearing is why aren’t more Muslims speaking out,” he said. “This statement by the South Jersey Muslim American leadership should finally put a rest to those criticisms.” .

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