Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez of SALAM Islamic Center in Sacramento won the FBI director's community leadership award in 2009 for his work preventing violence and educating the public. Five months ago, the FBI recognized SALAM again.
Abdul-Azeez got his traditional Islamic training in his native Egypt, and also graduated from medical school there. He got a degree in political science and history at Ohio State University and wrote his master's thesis at University of Chicago on the roots of suicide bombers.
The Bee asked Abdul-Azeez to put into context the Boston Marathon bombings, allegedly by two self-identified Muslims with no reported links to militant organizations.
How did you react to the bombings in Boston?
The first thing that occurred to me is that Martin, the 8-year-old boy who died, could have been my son. I had considered taking my son to the Boston Marathon. My wife and I were watching the news in tears. But ever since this thing went down, I don't want to have to apologize for any crime that's been committed. I'm weary of having to deal with this pressure all the time, whenever something stupid happens in the world. I feel similar to a gun owner worried about gun laws all the time because people are shooting people, or a Jew who has to worry about the atrocities being committed in Israel. I can help us assure ourselves the world is still good.
What has the impact been on local Muslim Americans?
People who are leading perfectly normal lives are afraid of a backlash. One mother said after our Friday jumah, or prayer, 'I'm thinking about pulling my kid out of karate practice,' and a man asked if he should take a week of sick leave and avoid going to work. I said absolutely not.
I posted on Facebook: My deepest condolences to the families of the victims of today's explosions in Boston. Should we stay at home, avoid public places, or take off our hijabs for the time being?
Sounds prudent, right?
This IS the time when we need to be going out more, visiting places more and engaging people ! We need to take our precautions, but we shouldn't hide, for we are guilty of nothing!
It is not our fault that bad things happen in this world, and we cannot possibly mitigate them by hiding.
Non-hijabi sisters, wear hijabs tomorrow in solidarity with your sisters.
Parents, don't pull the kids off karate practice.
Mothers, do not stop your daily grocery shopping.
Students, time to organize those Islam awareness events on campus.
Families, don't cancel tomorrow's walks in the park. Facebook residents, remove the negative and apologetic tones from your posts.
We shouldn't apologize for something we are not responsible for! May God instill empathy, love and perseverance in everyone's heart.
The suspects, ethnic Chechens, have criticized American foreign policy and the war in Afghanistan. Do you see any connection to their so-called Muslim identity?
The whole thing has a fishy stench to it. The story is riddled with inconsistencies. I spoke to the imam at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, and he said those two kids never attended a service at his center, the largest in Boston. They might have attended a few services at a smaller mosque in Cambridge, but they are not masjid-going people.
Aside from the general anti-American sentiment in parts of the Muslim world, I don't think the Chechens have a particular beef with the United States.
If the FBI has known about these guys for years and received intelligence about them from the Russians, how come they've been allowed to operate with impunity?
And terrorists from Islamic traditions don't run, don't hide. They take a bullet in their chest. That's been a very consistent pattern.
What did you tell your congregants?
As a religious leader, people lean on me to give them a positive perspective on a world that seems increasingly reduced to total chaos. Every day I tell myself there's so much beauty to be explored, there are volunteers who spend time in the service of others. I don't want evil to control and define our discourse. An act of terrorism is not as widespread as the beautiful things and gestures of kindness people do daily. Don't ignore the acts of evil, but don't give them as much weight.
As a human community, we need to spend more time reinforcing and nurturing the sense of good in most us. That's the only way to move past the evil and negativity that surround us every once in a while.
Call The Bee's Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Follow him on Twitter @stevemagagnini.