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Mosques in America Work to Fight Radicalization of Youth


FILE - Men gather for prayer on the first day of Ramadan at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, in 2013. (VOA/J. Taboh)

FILE - Men gather for prayer on the first day of Ramadan at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, in 2013. (VOA/J. Taboh)

As devout followers broke the daily Muslim fast at a Virginia mosque one evening earlier this week, talk turned to how the holy month of Ramadan was marred by Sunday's massacre in Orlando by an American Muslim shooter.

In a month devoted to inner religious reflection, families talked about how they can prevent their youth from turning to extremism and becoming radicalized by the plethora of virulent rhetoric on the internet and social media.

"We have a very active youth department here. We are trying to get the youth to come in and to be more interactive," Faazia Deen, the interfaith and outreach officer at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in suburban Washington, told VOA.

The center's youth department offers a variety of programs to help enrich their social and intellectual growth. It hosts summer camps and organizes speaker programs, and young people participate in interfaith programs where they reach out to other faith centers, such as churches and synagogues.

"Dar Al-Hijrah has a big role ahead of them to engage the youth," said Deen, who works closely with mothers who, according to her, influence their children the most.

FILE - The Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center is seen in Falls Church, Virginia, Nov. 8, 2009. "Dar Al-Hijrah has a big role ahead of them to engage the youth," said one person at the center.

FILE - The Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center is seen in Falls Church, Virginia, Nov. 8, 2009. "Dar Al-Hijrah has a big role ahead of them to engage the youth," said one person at the center.

"I, as often as I can, talk to mothers. I especially feel that mothers are important to get them in education," she said.

Message to youth

Not too far from Dar Al-Hijrah, worshippers at another mosque told VOA that engaging vulnerable youth is a priority.

"When such a bad incident like [Orlando] happens, it's important for parents to tell their children it is not Islamic," Khyber Kakar, a volunteer at the Madina Islamic Center in Springfield, told VOA.

"It's the mosque or Islamic center's role to let the youth know that, according to Quran and Islam, the life of a Muslim and non-Muslim is very precious," the young volunteer added.

The imam of the Madina center says its programs are specially designed for youth. He said the center plans to create a youth department to attract a larger number of young people.

WATCH: Mosques in Virginia Teach Dangers of Extremism

"We have weekend classes, as well as monthly gatherings, where we try to engage the youth," said Jamal Kakar, imam of the center. "We focus on them so that they contribute toward the community, and also help to not become victims of extremists' propaganda."

A worshipper at the center said parents also have a responsibility to sift through negative outside influences.

"I think we should not stay unaware of our children's activities," Saeed Khan told VOA.

‘Be who you are’

Muslim leaders say they are trying to counter a message of Islamist extremism which portrays America as anti-Muslim.

"My message [to a young person] is be a proud American Muslim. There is no contradiction in being a Muslim and American," Nihad Awad, executive director of the U.S.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told VOA.

"It might be difficult to be a Muslim when we hear these things, but this is the greatest time to be a Muslim,” Awad said. “Just be who you are. America provides freedom of thought and freedom of religion. This is also enshrined in Islam.”

VOA's Iftikhar Hussain contributed to this report.

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