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US Muslims Challenged to Steer Youth Away From Violence

Graves are seen at Al-Barzakh Islamic Cemetery in Doswell, Virginia, May 10, 2013. Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev is reportedly buried there.

The involvement of two young Muslim men in the Boston Marathon bombing has reminded members of the American Muslim community to make greater efforts to reach out to young people who may consider taking a violent path. But they say Muslim youths should not be considered any differently than other young Americans coping with stress.

Imam Johari of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in suburban Washington dismissed the idea that Muslim youth are more prone to violence, and that it takes an entire community to help young people express their feelings in a healthy way.

"There’s no such thing as a Muslim cancer, there’s no such thing as Muslim hypertension and there’s no such thing as Islamic violence," he said. "These are young people who have been caught up in something that has something to do with their own personal, emotional problems. We’re all doing what we can, but we can’t do enough. This has to be a problem that all of us solve together."

US Muslim Community Faces Challenges in Keeping Youth Off Violent Path
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Johari said he and leaders like him are spreading a message of non-violence by drawing from historical lessons.

"I tell the legacy to young people about the African Americans. If we can create social change, and it was not violence that freed the Negros," he said. "It was the willingness of the whites, the blacks and religious people and government leaders to join together and say this system is against the American Constitution and against God. And we did that."

A message of unity is not always delivered, according to Peter Skerry of the Brookings Institution. He said it can be difficult for Muslim youth to assimilate into mainstream American society because they do not always have good examples.

"Muslim American leaders are not positioning themselves very well to speak to Muslim American youth or to Muslim Americans generally," he said. "They are twisting and contorting themselves in several different directions that just undermines their position."

Those shifting messages may be tempered by watchful eyes at home, parenting experts say. Masood Khan and his wife have four young kids, and they say they're mindful of the potential for their children to be exposed to radical influences on the Internet.

"My wife is very strict on these things, and we know what they’re doing," Khan said. "All of my four kids, two daughters and two sons, whatever they’re doing on the Internet and on computer, they’re being monitored."

Khan said parents should remain engaged with their children and that the kids should be encouraged to maintain a balance between their religious and social activities.

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