Posted on | April 22, 2013
It’s still unclear whether religion was a motivation for the Boston Marathon bombings.
But as evidence emerges that Tamerlan Tsarnaev may have held extremist Muslim beliefs, speculation is rife as to whether those apparent beliefs led him and his brother Dzhokhar to plant the bombs that killed three people and injured more than 180 others, and to then kill a police officer.
From the beginning, U.S. Muslim organizations and leaders have condemned the bombings and emphasized that violence against innocent people violates the basic tenets of Islam.
“A person who claims an Islamic basis for such a heinous crime is no more faithful to the teachings of Islam than a KKK member who claims a biblical basis in committing bigoted crimes,” Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told me on Friday.
“Islam’s teachings are very clear in protecting the sanctity of life,” the Corona resident said. “Anyone who claims to be a Muslim cannot act in opposition to those teachings.”
Prayers for the victims of the Boston bombings and condemnations of the attacks were heard over the past few days in mosques across the country and at vigils organized by Muslims.
One Boston-area imam, Talal Eid, said he would refuse to perform funeral rites for someone who killed innocent people. The Quran says such people go to hell, he said.
Tamerlan Tsarnaev clashed with members of a Massachusetts mosque earlier this year. In January, he disrupted a service when he loudly objected to Martin Luther King Jr. being compared with the Prophet Mohammed.
One worshipper said Tsarnaev was angry because King was not a Muslim.
After the outburst, Yusufi Vali, a spokesman for the mosque, told The Boston Globe “The congregation shouted him out of the mosque.”
The FBI said that in 2011, a foreign government – later identified as Russia – asked for information on Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
“The FBI reviewed its records and determined that in early 2011, a foreign government asked the FBI for information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev,” the FBI said. “The request stated that it was based on information that he was a follower of radical Islam and a strong believer, and that he had changed drastically since 2010 as he prepared to leave the United States for travel to the country’s region to join unspecified underground groups.”
The FBI found no evidence of terrorist activity.
There have already been assaults against Muslims in the Boston and New York areas.
Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., said anti-Muslim attitudes can alienate Muslims. He said in an essay on the National Geographic website that he believes the Tsarnaev brothers’ struggle in defining their identity led to the bombings. He also said Muslim community leaders need to work more to help young people deal with Islamophobia and guide them so they don’t fall prey to those who advocate violence.
The Tsarnaev brothers’ religious background has thrust Islam into the debate in Washington over how to react to the Boston bombings.
Rep. Peter King, a New York State Republican who has held hearings on “radical Islam” – hearing that were condemned by many Muslim and civil-liberties groups for singling out Muslims – said the bombings illustrated the need for greater surveillance of Muslims. King added that 99 percent of U.S. Muslims are good people, but that greater monitoring of Muslims is necessary because people such as the alleged Boston bombers have succeeded in staying “under the radar screen.”
King appeared Sunday on Fox News Sunday with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who appeared to accuse King of anti-Muslim attitudes.
“With respect to whether we are doing enough in the Muslim community, I think we should take a look at that,” she said. “But I don’t think we need to go and develop some real disdain and hatred on television about it.”
Feinstein then added, “This came at this point from two individuals. That’s what we really do know. We do not know what their connections are. So I think we ought to find out before we begin to charge them with all kinds of associations.”