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US Imam: Islamic State 'Damaging Islam'

FILE - A fighter of the Islamic State group waving their flag.
FILE - A fighter of the Islamic State group waving their flag.

The leading imam in the U.S. city of Minneapolis has condemned the beheading of hostages by Islamic State militants, saying the practice is "not Islamic."

Sheikh Abdirahman Sheikh Omar told VOA's Somali service that under Islamic law, captives have rights and should not be killed because of their nationality.

He compared the Islamic State to the Somali extremist group al-Shabab, saying the militants are damaging Islam more than they are attracting people to the faith.

"They killed all the educators, they killed professors, they killed even the imams in the mosques. They killed a lot of people, a lot of innocent people. At the same time, they’re saying, 'We are saving the people.' They kill more Muslims than any other thing. They’re damaging Islam, the face of Islam,” said Omar.

Sheikh Omar said U.S. officials need to do more to show that America is not at war with Islam. He highlighted discrimination Muslims have faced, particularly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, saying things like the no-fly list, "intimidating" questions about daily life and the surveillance of mosques creates the perception that America is battling Muslims.

He said that view increases the number of people who join radicals.

"I think the way that the foreign policy of the United States treats the Muslims -- the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world -- will have a role for the radicalization of Muslim youth. The radicals are saying, 'United States is fighting with the Muslims in the world,’” said Omar.

Sheikh Omar said there must be a way to separate the tiny number of radicals from the 99.9 percent of Muslims who just want to practice their faith and not be "guilty of being a Muslim."

In 2008, he was accused of helping Somali men travel to Somalia to join militants like al-Shabab, which he denied. The FBI investigated the disappearance of more than a dozen men from the state of Minnesota, many of whom attended the imam's mosque.

Ethnic Somalis have now left North America to join militant groups in Syria, including one from Minneapolis who was killed fighting in Syria earlier this year.

Sheikh Omar said he is surprised at that development, and does not understand why they would join the conflict instead of helping their own people in Somalia who do not have enough food or education. He called attention to the influence of social media and videos that can connect radicals to people across the world.

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