Islamic State is ‘clear and present enemy,’ says Sacramento imam

A leading Sacramento-area Islamic cleric marked the end of Ramadan on Wednesday by calling on Muslims to declare war on the Islamic State.

“Daesh (an acronym that stands for the Arabic name for the Islamic State, or ISIS) is the cancer that eats at the heart of Islam,” Imam M.A. Azeez told a crowd of several thousand Muslims gathered at McClellan Park for the holiday of Eid al-Fitr. “I take Daesh as my enemy. It truly is a battle for the spirit of Islam. Every one of you must do everything in your power to stop them. The battle is now as clear and black and white as ever.”

The annual Eid Celebration – which ends 30 days of fasting from sunrise to sunset – is a joyous time to connect with friends and family. But this year, it follows a Ramadan period marred by Islamic State attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of people around the world, most of them Muslims.

Azeez said he never uses the term ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “I refuse to associate the name of Islam with a group of criminals and deranged thugs,” he said. “Daesh is the name they call themselves in Arabic.”

He said he weeps for all the victims of Daesh, but was particularly devastated when suicide bombers attacked three sites in Saudi Arabia, including the mosque in Medina where the Prophet Muhammad is said to be buried, killing four security guards.

“I spent half the day crying when one of the holiest sites in all Islam was attacked by deranged criminals,” Azeez said. “Any person on the face of the earth that has joined them has renounced Islam forever. Their victims in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan are 90 percent Muslim. It is now clear to every Muslim in the world that Daesh is the clear and present enemy.”

In the month of Ramadan, the casualties linked to Daesh included 175 people, most of them Shiite Muslims who were killed in Baghdad, another 20 in Bangladesh, 44 in Turkey, 43 in Yemen, seven in Jordan and five in Lebanon. An American citizen of Afghan descent also killed 49 people in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub after pledging loyalty to the group.

Azeez, based at the Taribya Institute in Roseville,, said the theme of this year’s Grand Eid Celebration is that the spirit of Ramadan will fuel Muslim resolve to repel evil. “For the safety of our families, our country and our world, we must denounce them,” he said of the Islamic State.

That message was not lost on Najam A. Najmi, his son Akif, 13, and daughter Arzu, 10. “First of all, know God stops you from hurting people even for a reason. You are not a judge,” said Najmi, a mediator and educator from Roseville. “The first step is to educate your families on the Quran. Ramadan is like a refresher course in Islam.”

Najmi’s son had a more visceral reaction to Azeez’s sermon. “Any time ISIS or Daesh is brought up, my muscles tense up. I get angry. I feel like crying, and I want to join the U.S. Air Force and bomb those guys,” he said. “But I don’t want to take the lives of innocent people in the process.”

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @SteveMagagnini