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Young Muslims feel Islamic State taints religion

HOST 1: Prosecutors announced earlier this week that they would seek the death penalty for the man charged with killing three Muslims in North Carolina last month. Police are still investigating whether the shootings were a hate crime, but Muslims worldwide felt that the shootings were a personal attack on their religion.

HOST 2: Some Muslim New Yorkers told Anjuli Sastry the rise of the self-declared Islamic State has cultivated misunderstanding about what Islam really represents, leading to hostile treatment of Muslims.

AMBI: Maghrib prayer begins (0:07)

It is 10 minutes past sunset on a snowy Tuesday evening. That means it’s prayer time at the Islamic Center at New York University on Thompson Street. Female students remove their shoes and file into a large carpeted room from the left while males enter through the right.

AMBI: Maghrib prayer continues under narration

This is one of five prayers Muslim students like NYU Freshman Zirwa Ziamir make time for each day.

AMBI: Maghrib prayer fades out before next paragraph

Ziamir wants people to understand that Islam is a peaceful religion through which she connects to God and remembers her purpose in life.

Ziamir: We have the prayers which are like physical movements that we do like standing and then prostrating before God. It’s a tranquil state that I’m in, a very peaceful state. (0:08)

Ziamir, who wears a hijab, was shopping in her neighborhood two years ago when a woman verbally abused her. Ziamir felt she was being harassed by the lady for something she is not — a terrorist.

Ziamir: I have been cursed at. I have been told to go back to my country. I was born in the Bronx. Like I don’t know, I’m in my country. (0:05)

This type of harassment is common, according to a recent Pew report, which found that Muslims are verbally and physically attacked more than other religions in 99 countries including America. The report measured acts of religious hostility by private individuals and organizations throughout 2013. While Muslims might feel singled out, Christians also face high levels of hostility, according to the Pew report.

These findings come on the heels of news that young Muslims are being recruited via social media to the self-declared Islamic State in the U.S. and on a greater scale in Europe. For Ziamir, her religion has been distorted by the Islamic State.

Ziamir: In Islam, you can’t kill an innocent soul for no reason, right. It’s a defensive. You would only fight to protect yourself if someone is inflicting harm on you. (0:08)

It’s up to Muslim religious leaders to teach the true meaning of the Quran, the religious text of Islam. This will keep youth from being recruited, Ziamir said.

Ziamir: Muslim leaders need to step up and find the right medium to teach what is right and what is wrong. (0:05)

That’s just what Imam Khalid Latif is trying to do at the Islamic Center at NYU. He teaches the peaceful meanings of the Quran at weekly classes to keep youth from being radicalized.

Latif teaches class: For those of you who weren’t here last week, one of the things we spoke about was reading the Quran as a text that encourages ethical conduct. Allah is posing a question introspectively. You want to think for yourself. (0:12)

Last week, three Brooklyn men were arrested and charged with plotting to aid the Islamic State in terrorist activities. President Obama has publicly refused to characterize the conflict as a war with Islam. But Republicans such as Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas want the president to admit that radical Islam is promoting terrorist activity.

McCaul: The President’s reluctance to lead, combined with a false narrative about the threat we face, has allowed radical Islamists to surge. (0:06)

McCaul’s statement in a speech last month troubles Columbia student Fatima Warsame because, she said, it’s a stereotype.

Warsame: We are not all terrorists. (0:02)

Warsame thinks governments and religious leaders in Europe need to come together to keep youth from being radicalized.

Warsame: When I look at those Muslim communities, I think about how they’re not very integrated. A huge network of people have to go against this. Not just the imams at the mosques because they can’t relate to the youth by themselves. (0:15)

Warsame is a board member for Columbia’s Muslim Student Association and helped plan the Muslim Protagonist conference on the campus last weekend. At the conference, students confronted issues like the Chapel Hill shootings through writing workshops.

At the workshops, Warsame found that the shootings saddened her community. But ultimately the tragedy made them stronger.

Warsame: There is a resilience. I am not fearful. I am not paranoid just because I have been wearing hijab and I have been practicing my religion. (0:06)

Warsame and Ziamir want fellow Americans to understand that radical Islam does not represent all of Islam. There needs to be a continued effort to keep youth from being radicalized, but both women remain hopeful for the future. Anjuli Sastry, Columbia Radio News.


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