The United States is home to about 7 million Muslims and, for many of them, a series of recent terror attacks organized or inspired by the Islamic State has made being Muslim a challenge — to their religion and to their efforts to integrate into American society.
"We are part of this community in America,” said Ahmed Mashaal, an American Muslim and specialist in Islamic law. “We are part of the fabric from the early days of the American history."
Many Muslims who were born, raised and educated in the United States feel a duty to fight the spread of radical ideas being preached under the guise of "Islam."
At the Islamic Center of Northern Virginia — a short drive from the nation's capital — hundreds of Muslims gather to pray on a weekday and, on Fridays, some 2,000 believers join for community prayer.
Among them are recent immigrants and first-, second- and third-generation Americans, many of whom say it's necessary to reach out to the lonely and isolated who are easily radicalized into becoming homegrown terrorists.
What that means, according to Mashaal, is "Being inclusive —having inclusive communities that bring the youth in — and having positive messages and making sure they have jobs and a role in the society versus having them live separately or isolationist or being alone."
Ali Asinalinsyed, a real estate agency owner, agrees.
"I do believe we need more voices from the Muslim community,” Asinalinsyed said, “to show solidarity and support for our religion that has been hijacked by a very wrong group of people. … They have nothing to do with Islam."
‘Bring back our religion’
Spreading the word about what Islam truly means is crucial for American Muslims, says Jakir Chowdhury, an IT specialist.
"There are certain groups of people that are trying to hijack the religion for their own perverted purpose,” he said. “Our role is to make sure that the community in general and the nation in general knows about this."
Polls and studies over the past few years show that Muslims have been crucial in helping law enforcement find terror suspects in the United States.
And a Pew survey found that roughly half of U.S. Muslims say their religious leaders are not speaking out enough against Islamic extremism.
"The Muslim leaders have been quiet for a long time,” said Muhammad Farooq, president of the Islamic Center of Northern Virginia. “It is the time for us to stand up and try to bring back our religion from the people who have hijacked it."