US Muslim leaders try to counter radicals' influence on their youths

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Washington, Dec. 26 (ANI): Mosques and Islamic organizations across the United States regularly issue statements rejecting violence and fringe ideologies, but after the arrests of five Americans in Sargodha, Pakistan, on terror-related charges, Muslim leaders in the country have been scrambling to fill what they describe as a gap in their connection with young people.

According to the Washington Post, they are searching for new ways to counter the influence of the extremists whom young people might encounter, especially online.

Till now, many Muslim leaders have focused on what they considered external threats to young people, such as Islamophobia or the temptations of modern, secular life. Now, they say it is time to look inward, to provide a counterweight to those who misinterpret Koranic verses to promote violence-and to learn what rhetoric and methods appeal to young people.

"I'm really concerned about what the Internet is doing to my young people. I used to not be worried about the radicalism of our youth. But now, after this, I'm worried more," said Mohamed Magid, imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling.

Magid said he has met in recent years with other Muslim leaders to talk about social networking to counter radicalism in Europe, "but we never thought about it for here."

Now, Magid said, "I have to be a virtual imam," meaning that Muslim groups need a larger and more effective online presence. eferring to extremists, he said:

"Twenty-four hours, they're available. I want to be able to respond to that," he added.

Radicals "seem to understand our youth better than we do," said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.

For some, a new approach cannot come too soon. Zaki Barzinji, 20, a Sterling native and former president of Muslim Youth of North America, said mosques are "sort of in the Stone Age when it comes to outreach. Their youth programs are not attractive, not engaging . . . . They're shooting in the dark because it's always adults who are planning this outreach."

Barzinji said, adding that groups of "traveling Muslim proselytizers" sometimes appear at Virginia Tech, where he is a senior, often attracting foreign students, who tend to be more socially isolated.

"They go to the dorms, look for Muslim-sounding names, knock on the door and say, 'Hey, we'd like to talk to you about hellfire and how you're heading that way,' " Barzinji said. (ANI)

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