At the private Al-Arqam Islamic School in south Sacramento on Thursday, 18 juniors in a college prep history class learned how to put the killing of Osama bin Laden in context.
Several wondered whether it's wrong to be happy and relieved over his death when they said true Islam condemns violence and maintains that the taking of one life is like killing all of humanity.
"We believe when an evil person dies, everything in creation is happy," teacher Abdullah Wafi explained. "When I learned he was dead I emailed all my friends 'Good riddance' in Arabic."
Principal Badiaa Wardany, an Egyptian immigrant, added: "We don't feel happy about the death of anybody, but we can be happy about the elimination of evil. We all want safety and security in our lives. Maybe God meant for him to die that day."
Nimra El-Sayed, 16, said she was thrilled "when I saw it on Facebook because of all the suffering in the world he's responsible for. Everyone thought Muslims are terrorists because of 9/11. At the Marin Headlands, a woman walked up to my mom and said, 'You're the reason my husband has died.' "
Not everyone believes in the bin Laden narrative that he orchestrated 9/11 and is now dead, said Wardany.
She noted several members of Congress are among those asking President Barack Obama, "Why was bin Laden thrown into the sea without anyone seeing his face?" Others have questioned whether the al-Qaida mastermind could have been taken alive.
While some of the 340 students at Al-Arqam school hoped bin Laden's death signaled an end to the war on terror and anti-Muslim bigotry, others feared it would trigger a new wave of terrorism.
"Bin Laden didn't represent Islam, and I do not want to be judged based on his actions," said Rimsa Siddiqui, 16. "A true Muslim would never terrorize anyone, let alone hurt them. I do worry that although he's dead, other wrongdoers might take him as an example to terrorize others. We don't need more harm in the world."
It could go either way, Wafi said. "I feel it reopens wounds somebody spray-painted a mosque with the words, 'Today Osama, tomorrow Islam.' "
Bin Laden undoubtedly was the face of terrorism, and even though he wore a beard and a white turban like the Prophet Muhammad and thousands of other Muslim men, "inwardly he was the antithesis of the Prophet's behavior," Wafi told his class.
Wafi said bin Laden was an engineer who didn't know more about Islamic law than the average Muslim. The al-Qaida leader's 1996 fatwa or legal opinion claiming "the walls of oppression and humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets" contains several egregious errors in his understanding of Islamic law, Wafi said. "He was not qualified to issue a legal opinion."
Throughout history, extremist movements have sprung up within both Christianity and Islam in the name of the oppressed, Wafi said.
In the seventh century C.E. (common era), the Kharijite rebels a sect of discontented Muslims used terrorism to challenge the beliefs and authority of Sunni and Shiite Muslims. They practiced vigilantism, used hit-and-run tactics and targeted civilians, characteristics shared by al-Qaida.
"The Prophet says, 'Beware of extremism in religion,' " Wafi said. "All major religions teach the path of moderation."
Bin Laden the scion of one of the wealthiest, most charitable families in Saudi Arabia was traumatized by the treatment of Palestinians and sacrificed wealth, power and privilege to battle the West, making him a Robin Hood figure to those living in poverty, Wafi said. "There seems to be this foolish lionizing and worshipping of bin Laden in certain segments of the Muslim community abroad," he said.
Just as the terrorist vigilantism of bin Laden and al-Qaida is forbidden by Islam, so is state-sanctioned terrorism, Wafi said. "Many believe our American government's involved in state-sanctioned terrorism because of the innocent people killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
When the oppressed become the oppressors, the onus is on the common people those truly oppressed to break the cycle of violence, Wafi said.
Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez of Sacramento's SALAM Islamic Center would like to have seen bin Laden taken alive, convicted of murder, terrorism and plotting against U.S. interests and put behind bars.
"Everything we know about bin Laden's basically what the government's told us and we believe most of it, but we're a country of laws and due process is everything," said Abdul-Azeez.
He applauds the courage of the Navy SEALs who took out bin Laden "there's a plethora of evidence that he deserved what he got."
But a trial would have shown the triumph of the American way of life vs. al-Qaida's way, the imam said.
His sermon on Friday at SALAM mosque focused on the power of peaceful protest to effect change. Regardless of how people feel about the events surrounding bin Laden's death, "al-Qaida completely failed as an ideology," Abdul-Azeez said. "It brought turmoil, it brought wars on Afghanistan and Iraq and things got worse."
Millions of Egyptians "showed the world in 18 days that it doesn't take jihadi rhetoric or American intervention, it just takes peaceful protest to bring change," the imam said.
"We live in a very confusing, extremely polarized world some Muslims are attacking the West, the West is attacking Muslim countries," Abdul-Azeez said.
When people are confused, the secret is to go back to the Prophet Muhammad, "who was able to win the hearts and minds of his enemies just by being loving and compassionate, putting himself in their shoes and trying to understand where they were coming from," Abdul-Azeez said. "That's the way to go not killing, retaliation or hatred."
The power of compassion as applied to the non-violent protests reshaping the Arab world has crippled al-Qaida's ability to recruit, and "is just so lasting and eternal it will resonate for generations to come," Abdul-Azeez said.