When Mohammad Abdulazeez shot up a military recruiting center at a strip mall a week ago in Chattanooga, Tennessee and then drove a short distance to a navy operations support center where he murdered five servicemen, he did more than take the lives of five courageous members of our military, each of whom had a family, friends and loved ones and a bright and promising future ahead of them. And he did more than trigger fears that lone terrorists here in the United States were acting on exhortations coming from ISIS on the other side of the world to wreak havoc and commit acts of violence in our country. Perhaps without knowing it, Abdulazeez also managed to rekindle within some Americans fears and phobias about anyone whose name sounds like his own. And that is unfortunate and regrettable.
A few days after the attack, a local radio station interviewed a Muslim community leader who spoke of the setbacks encountered by his community in the wake of Chattanooga. He was, of course, deeply saddened and horrified by the killings of US servicemen in general, and he was mortified because they were done by someone whose name and background caused him to be openly identified as a Muslim. (At the time of the broadcast, the FBI was still investigating whether or not there was a link between Abdulazeez and any known terrorist organization. Since then, it has become increasingly clear that the killer, though he had spent seven months in Jordan and had relatives there, had been using drugs, was depressed and suicidal and suffered from a manic-depressive disorder, and almost surely did not act under the compulsion of ISIS or any other terrorist group.) All the good work and building of trusting relationships between his community and its neighbors was threatened. The speaker expressed concern that people’s suspicions of Muslims were renewed.
We Jews who have so often been the subject of gratuitous hatred and misplaced aggression should be sensitive to the pain of being falsely isolated and targeted. We should be able to recognize when the sins of the few taint the reputation and good name of the many, and when stereotyping results making incorrect assumptions about people’s values and intentions.
We’ve all witnessed and been horrified by violence committed by people who claim to be Muslims and who claim to be honoring Islamic values. The actions of a few have obscured what it means to be a Muslim and have made it difficult to understand the message and meaning of Islam. So it is that this Friday night I have invited a number of speakers to talk to us about what Jews should know about Islam, including Ashraf Latif, Chairman and President of the National Islamic Association and Community Center in Newark, and Abdul Alim Mubarak Rowe, Assistant Imam at Masjid Waarith ud Deen in Irvington. On an evening we’re calling “Tapas and Torah,” we’ll first share Shabbat services beginning at 8:00 P.M. At 8:45 P.M., we’ll gather in Founders’ Hall to enjoy Tapas and Sangria and listen to our guests tell us what they feel we should know about Islam. I hope you will join us for this special evening.