Community Domestic Affairs

No Room for Radicals

By Suhaib Webb and Scott Korb

Originally Published as an Op-Ed Article in the New York Times.

Just hours after the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were identified as Muslims, Representative Peter T. King of New York, the Republican chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, called for an “increased surveillance” of Islamic communities in the United States. “I think we need more police and more surveillance in the communities where the threat is coming from,” he told National Review. “The new threat is definitely from within.”

american flagMr. King’s hypothesis, and the widespread surveillance policies already in effect since 9/11, assume that the threat of radicalization has become a matter of local geography, that American Muslims are creating extremists in our mosques and community centers.

But what we’re learning of the suspects, the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suggests a different story, and one that has itself become familiar: radicalization does not happen to young people with a strong grounding in the American Muslim mainstream; increasingly, it happens online, and sometimes abroad, among the isolated and disaffected.

The YouTube page of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, for example, does not contain a single lecture from a scholar, imam or institution in America. One report suggests that he found the theology taught in a local Cambridge mosque, the Islamic Society of Boston, unpalatable: while attending a Friday service in which an imam praised the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Tsarnaev shouted that the imam was a “nonbeliever.” The younger Tsarnaev brother seems to have rarely attended a mosque at all.

Representative King’s theories also fail to explain why, if young people are being radicalized within mainstream Islamic communities, there aren’t more attacks like the one in Boston. By some measures Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the United States, and the last decade has seen a rapid expansion of Muslim institutions across the country.

Yet what’s most obvious to anyone who has spent time in these communities is that whether they are devotional or educational, focused on the arts or on interfaith cooperation and activism, this mediating set of American Muslim institutions is keeping impressionable young Muslims from becoming radicalized.

Take the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and its range of devotional, arts and educational programs, from preschool to a seminary. Or Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network, complete with a medical clinic, civic leadership education and a summer music festival that draws on the biggest names of Muslim hip-hop to promote peace through community organizing. Or Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., the nation’s first four-year Islamic liberal arts school.

These institutions and others have different aims, but they abide by a common idea: if the center of Judaism is the law, and the heart of Christianity is love, what Islam requires, above all else, is mercy. And whether on display in health care provided for the poor at South Los Angeles’s UMMA Community Clinic, or in a patiently handled Arabic lesson that will one day lead a new convert into the fullness of the tradition, Islamic mercy, preached and practiced within the community, allows no room for radicalization.

Representative King and others have it exactly, completely wrong — the American Muslim community has actively and repeatedly, day in and day out, rejected such radicals on religious grounds: they do not know mercy.

More than a decade since 9/11, this should no longer be any secret. Across the nation, the doors are open, and more are opening every day. And despite whatever misplaced fears the Boston bombings evoke about radical Islam and homegrown terror, we’ll all find ourselves increasingly secure as more Muslims heed the call — coming to Islam as it is in the United States, as a real, living community.

Suhaib Webb is the Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Scott Korb, who teaches writing at New York University and the New School, is the author of “Light Without Fire: The Making of America’s First Muslim College.”

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship. Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010.


  • As-Salamu ‘Alaikum Imam,

    Thank you for this response. Directing negative attention at Islamic institutions, who provide necessary social and religious services, is not the solution.

    From my reading of the research and literature, I have found that the increase of Islamic instutions – as well as the general increase of services sensitive to the needs of Muslim culture and religion – actually leads to a decrease in radicalization.

    With this in mind, institutions should be welcomed and supported and not looked at with suspicion.

    May God bless you and the work you do.

    God bless,

    • The failure of the Muslim leaders to speak out against injustice (not only donr by Muslims but also by the Kufar) is the root cause of what led these youth to perform the acts that they did.For example Why does Imams not challenge Obama and his drone programs and his massacres of the innocent. Call him and the other tyrants out! But the Muslim leaders don’t have the backbone to speak up. Instead you have people like Jeremy Scahill, Noam Chomasky, Michael Schauer and othe non-muslim doing for them. What a pathetic state. We have no eaxamples of the Prophets today. They seem to prefer to mimick the ways of so called conventional wisdom.

      • It is far more important that American Muslim leaders focus on denouncing the significant radical element in their ranks WITHOUT immediately launching into a diatribe claiming that their culture is somehow being persecuted. The reality is that the hate crime rate against Muslim-Americans is very small. Far lower than that against Jews, for example. The Muslim culture has serious problems integrating into modern society. Tolerance is not be taught nor demonstrated – rather they wallow in uncontrollable anger for any perceived slight. A cartoon of Mohammed? Big deal – live with it or leave.

  • as salaam alaikum,

    You’ve already decided that two men are guilty, despite the fact that they have not been found guilty in a court of law.

    Not only that, but your refusal to lead the Janazah over the deceased brother sets the tone for Muslims across America.

    How are you going to sit and write about “radicals” and “extremism” when you have decided they are guilty despite the fact that neither the courts of the United States of America nor any valid Shari’i authority has found then guilty?

    • Imam Suhaib was never contacted and/or ever denied leading a Janazah. I think you missed this:

      “ISBCC did not deny the deceased suspect his rite of burial. It was not asked to provide those services. If it was, it would offer them to him as it is a community obligation to bury the dead. While we denounce the acts he’s accused of, his soul stands before God. Our hearts and prayers are with the victims of this horrible tragedy and their families.”

    • In the words of Br. Shibli: “Benefit of the doubt for alleged Boston bombers but NONE AT ALL for Boston’s Imam Suhaib Webb for condemning them? Ridiculous!”

    • Salaam alaykum,

      dear sister,

      You blame the brother for being because of a judgment that is not certain? Why do you do the same with your opinion about the funeral?

      You talk about shariah? Do you really know what this means? Do you live in the U.S.? There is no shariah, and wake up, nowhere in the world is a valid Shariah.

      By the way, excellent response by brother Suhaib.

      Kind regards to all, i beg Allah for a better understanding of the deen for all of us and a sound and pure heart.

    • Salaam,

      Imam Suhaib publicly announced that he didn’t deny giving the older brother a Janazah. The family hasn’t requested it and the body was released today. This was a great article.

  • The article is spot on about the various Muslim institutions across the country which pull young Muslims into mainstream Islam and away from any chance of radicalization, which is, in my opinion, least likely to happen in the U.S. and more likely to happen from abroad, as already highlighted in the article and seen in the situation of the two accused bombers. Institutions that come to mind are Islamic centers and mosques in various cities, MSAs, Muslim youth groups and many more. As someone who has worked with many Muslim youth groups in central Texas, I can say that these are inshallah very effective in helping to teach young Muslims about mainstream Islam and creating a healthy sense of community and support of adults that young Muslims can look up to.
    The problem in my opinion, is that people like King and others who share his anti-Islamic viewpoints, don’t see all of this. They don’t see the efforts that devout Muslims and volunteers in Islamic centers and masjid are doing to create this sense of community among the youth, which will in essence keep them away from radicalization. This needs to be out in the media more, unfortunately that seems difficult with news channels being very selective and bias about the views they show, which is why I was thrilled when I saw this on the NY Times. I pray that more American Muslim leaders will see the importance of highlighting efforts that Muslims ARE making within our own communities in ways mentioned in the article inshallah. May Allah have mercy on the victims of the bombings and their families inshallah.

    • I don’t see anywhere in this article where the Imam does tafkir on anyone. I think you should assume the best of Imam Suhaib and others who are currently working tirelessly in defending the Muslim communities civil liberties against the repercussions of the Boston Bombing incident.

      • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        R-I think you should assume best about Mo. He has a pretty valid reason for putting that article up. Perhaps he has seen something you have not seen.

  • I will not jump to conclusions & start blaming these brothers as a benefit of the doubt needs to be offered to them. This is the same global media & government (US government) who lie & exaggerate on a regular basis with regards to Muslims & fabricating excuses to kill thousands of our brothers worldwide. May Allaah give those brothers what they deserve. May Allaah enable me to do my part. May Allaah enable the shuyookh of the US to be just & to condemn all acts of terrorism, whether it be by the US (too many things to list) or against it whilst not succumbing to the pressure of the media & society.

    “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Well-Acquainted with what you do.” [Surah maidah Verse 8]

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