Seeking a way to prevent violence like last year’s deadly Boston Marathon bombing, an Islamic advocacy group Monday announced a plan aimed at helping U.S. mosques identify and reeducate radicals.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council — which long has pushed for a moderate, American-based Islam — hopes its “Safe Spaces Initiative” will get mosques to stop a pattern of dealing with extremists by simply shunning them and kicking them out.
The plan was unveiled a day before Tuesday’s one-year anniversary of the marathon bombing, allegedly orchestrated by ethnically Chechen Muslim brothers who lived in the Boston area. One of them, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had turned toward extremism and was banished from a Boston-area mosque after challenging its moderate teachings.
“The message there was that ejection is not the answer,” said Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Los Angeles-based council.
But, Al-Marayati noted, it is not an uncommon reaction: Many American mosques traditionally have dealt with radicals by kicking them out or finding ways to isolate or distance them from the larger group.
“Ejection from the community does not solve the problem. It just makes the problem worse,” Al-Marayati said.
The initiative, which the Muslim council will begin promoting nationwide, calls for mosques to continuously present mainstream visions of the faith. If a believer turns toward radical — potentially violent — views, mosques should intervene by offering mental health and religious counseling and, when warranted, seeking help from the police.
If counseling doesn’t work, the plan states, radicals should be kicked out while the mosque alerts law enforcement about a potential troublemaker.
It’s unclear how many mosques will follow the initiative’s set of voluntary recommendations. Al-Marayati said an additional hurdle will be getting mosques to budget for its implementation. “But we believe this is a healthy investment to building healthy communities,” he said.