Here are excerpts of an article in last Wednesday's New York times written by Laurie Goodstein. [The bold highlights are mine]
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Bassam Issa stepped in front of a crowded classroom of students this month at Southern Adventist University, a Christian college near here, for a presentation on being Muslim in Chattanooga — recently named America’s most “Bible-minded city.”
Mr. Issa, a real estate developer and the president of his local mosque, was struggling with how to attack the assumption that Islam gives rise to terrorism. He knew that the association was strong: Only last July, here in Chattanooga, four Marines and a sailor were killed in a terrorist rampage by a young Muslim man who grew up in the community. Many people here now speak of that day, July 16, as “7/16,” an echo of “9/11.”
And just a week before Mr. Issa’s visit to the college, there had been another attack, when a married Muslim couple killed 14 people and wounded 22 in San Bernardino, Calif.
“Every time something like this happens, we have national news media, local news asking us, what do we think?” Mr. Issa said.
President Obama recently challenged Muslims to speak out against extremism and build closer ties to know their non-Muslim neighbors. Aware of this, and compelled by the rise of both the Islamic State and anti-Muslim sentiment, many American Muslims here and across the country are now saying it is no longer enough to denounce terrorism and assert that Islam is a religion of peace.
Instead, no matter how exasperated they may privately feel, some Muslims are beginning to publicly confront the uncomfortable questions that non-Muslims have about Islam and violence, and trying to provide answers, both through words and through the example of how they live their lives.
Here in the classroom, Mr. Issa told students to look beyond Islam to the deeper and more universal causes of violence. “What’s happening right now is not religious, even though ISIS and Al Qaeda are covered as a religious thing,” he said. “In reality, it’s political.”
Mr. Issa also spoke this month at the downtown public library with Boyd Patterson, an assistant district attorney, who self-published a book compiling verses in the Quran that could be used by extremists to justify violence and terrorism. The two held a forthright discussion about those verses, and why most Muslims do not read them as justification for terrorism because, Mr. Issa said, they were written in a very different historical context, when Islam was an upstart faith challenging the status quo, and are primarily prescriptions for self-defense — not justifications for terrorism.
Dr. Mohsin Ali, a child psychiatrist who has worked in the area for 10 years, said he, too, had tried to tackle questions about what Islam teaches head-on, with Muslims, non-Muslims and others.
“We can’t ignore the fact that violent extremists use an interpretation of the very same books and texts that we use,” Dr. Ali said in an interview at a coffee shop near the clinic where he treats low-income patients. “I feel like the Muslim community does need to do more. We had a shooter from our mosque do this.”
On the morning of the shooting, the last day locally of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, drove a rented silver Mustang convertible up to an armed forces recruiting center in a strip mall and fired several rounds, wounding a Marine recruiter. He then drove to a Navy and Marine Corps reserve center where he shot his way into the building, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun. Minutes later, the police fatally shot him.
Details soon surfaced about Mr. Abdulazeez’s troubled path since he graduated from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga: He had been treated for depression; was awaiting trial on a drunken-driving charge; had lost a job, reportedly because he did not pass a drug test; and was thousands of dollars in debt.
Investigators found that he had viewed extremist videos and that in the days before the attack, he searched the Internet to learn whether martyrdom would allow him to be forgiven for his sins.
On Wednesday, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, said the bureau had determined that Mr. Abdulazeez “was inspired by a foreign terrorist organization’s propaganda,” a determination that prompted the Navy to announce that it would award the Purple Heart posthumously to the five military members who were killed.
But the mayor, Andy Berke, and the police chief in Chattanooga, Fred Fletcher, say the response from the city’s tiny Muslim minority helped defuse what was a highly incendiary situation in a Southern city of 175,000 where guns and military members are revered.
The effort started right away. At a memorial service at Olivet Baptist Church for the slain military members the day after the 7/16 attack, Dr. Ali told the crowd that he and other Muslims in Chattanooga were grieving with the rest of the city. Then he asked the Muslims in attendance to stand as a sign of their allegiance to Chattanooga and to peace, and when the dozens of Muslims in attendance did so, the audience applauded loudly.