WASHINGTON - Two influential Minnesota imams have condemned Sunday's massacre at an Orlando nightclub, saying the shooter, who pledged loyalty to Islamic State, does not represent Islam.
Abdirahman Sharif, leader of the Dar-Al-Hijra mosque in Minneapolis, described the attack as "anti-Islamic."
"We condemn this wicked and brutal action in the highest possible terms," he said Monday in an interview with VOA's Somali Service.
Sheikh Abdisalam Adan, chairman of the Islamic Civic Society of America, said it is "sad and unfortunate" that people claiming to be Muslims carry out these kinds of crimes.
"I think it is not a matter of religion," he told the Somali Service. "People who perpetrate such acts are not following any religious teachings."
"Whenever such a tragedy occurs and so many innocent people lose their lives, there is no justification for such a heinous action."
Minneapolis is home to the largest ethnic Somali community in the United States, and in recent years has seen dozens of young Muslims leave the area to fight either with Islamic State or Somali militant group al-Shabab.
Worries about backlash
Both Sharif and Adan have been involved in outreach efforts to convince non-Muslim Americans that true Islam has nothing to do with terrorism and violence.
Sharif said he is worried the Orlando attack will stir up hatred against Muslim communities in the U.S.
“Once I heard the news about this attack, I was shocked because it comes as in recent days the media was covering the good image of Islam following the death of the boxing legend Muhammad Ali," he said.
“The incident also created fearful reaction in our mind. We thought about the possibility of backlash to the Muslim communities from disgruntled people. We are in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan when Muslims gather at mosques in large numbers for congregational prayers.”
Adan cautioned against generalizations about a connection between Islam and terrorism. "American Muslims should not be targeted since they are minority, as the people targeted at the nightclub were," he said.