As religious leaders in the San Bernardino area prepare for an interfaith prayer vigil Monday, some worry that revelations of links between terrorist groups and the killers of 14 people in the California city may set back years of efforts there to dispel misconceptions about Islam.
Authorities say Tashfeen Malik pledged allegiance to Islamic State and that her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, communicated with people who had ties to terrorist organizations.
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Mustafa Kuko, director of the Islamic Center of Riverside, California, where Farook worshipped from 2012 to early 2014, has for years invited non-Muslims to his mosque for open houses and other events, and he regularly meets with local civic leaders.
“We have built a good relationship with the community,” he said. But, Kuko added, the latest mass shooting may cause some to become more suspicious of Muslims.
Rabbi Suzanne Singer, of Temple Beth El in Riverside, about 10 miles from San Bernardino, visited Kuko at the mosque Friday to show support, just as Kuko did for Singer when neo-Nazis picketed the synagogue in 2009.
“So many people unfortunately will tar all Muslims with this label of terrorist,” she said, adding that Kuko and his community are “lovely people.”
“I don’t think all of this horrible terrorism is going on because of Islam,” she said. “It’s a perversion of Islam and an excuse to commit these horrible acts.”
Even so, Singer believes fear and suspicion of Muslims will increase in the wake of the massacre. “People don’t understand Islam,” she said.
Singer and other clergy in the region are planning Monday night’s vigil at Our Lady of the Rosary Roman Catholic Cathedral as a sign of unity.
The rabbi rejected assertions by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and others that those close to Farook lied when they said there were no indications Farook and Malik were capable of such carnage. Family members of non-Muslim murderers frequently say similar things, she said.
Kuko said Farook was reserved and withdrawn at the mosque.
“Knowing him, I don’t think his sister and his brother or anyone would know what he was intending,” he said.
Dr. Mohammad Hossain, imam of the Islamic Center of Redlands and a doctor whose office is less than a quarter-mile from the shooters’ apartment, said religious leaders often can’t spot radicalization.
“People pray at a mosque and they leave,” he said.
Kuko said if any congregant were to express support for terrorism, he first would try to use readings from the Quran and sayings of the prophet Muhammad to explain that such beliefs violate fundamental Islamic teachings.
“If that did not change his mind, we wouldn’t hesitate to call the FBI, because if he’s a real threat — I don’t care if he’s Muslim or is not — he’d have to be stopped,” Kuko said.