An Islamic scholar visiting Birmingham today said American Muslims should be able to openly criticize U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East without being viewed with suspicion or having their patriotism questioned.
"It's not un-American to criticize America," said Yasir Qadhi, who has a PhD from Yale University and is a resident scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center. Qadhi spoke Friday at the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center and at the Harbert Center in Birmingham. "If I didn't love it, I wouldn't criticize it."
He said conservative right-wing Americans criticize President Barack Obama and still consider themselves patriotic. "That's a double-standard that needs to be pointed out," he said. "We shouldn't criminalize dissent."
Too many Muslims are afraid to be open in their criticism of American foreign policy, and that sometimes means radical groups are more attractive to those who are questioning U.S. policy, Qadhi said. "These are evil, vicious people in ISIS," Qadhi said.
The emergence of ISIS is a result of failed American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said. "We really messed up in Iraq," he said. "We created a baby Frankenstein."
Qadhi, a professor at Rhodes College in Memphis and dean of academic affairs at Al Maghrib Institute, has been an outspoken opponent of ISIS. Sending more troops is not the answer, he said.
"More bombs and more troops is more trouble," he said. "More violence, more bombs and more killing will lead to more problems."
Birmingham Muslims have grown increasingly concerned about the threat of ISIS, especially after a 20-year-old Hoover woman was recruited this year to join the terrorist network.
"We are against all extremism," said Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society. "They do not follow Islam. It is very important we get the word out."
Hoda Muthana, 20, abandoned her family and flew to Syria earlier this year to join the terrorist group popularly known as ISIS, the Islamic State in Syria. Muthana graduated from Hoover High School in 2013 and was studying business at UAB before leaving the country.
"We have already been a victim of ISIS recruitment," Taufique said. "She is there with them right now. She grew up in front of us. I know her. That was a turning point for us."
The Muslim community lives with the fear of their youth being radicalized by terrorists.
"We are very concerned about our youth," Taufique said. "We are very concerned about our youth being brainwashed. They can take innocent, weak minds and brainwash them into disobeying their parents."
Qadhi said that mosques have not been at fault when youth have been lured into ISIS. There is a false perception that people are being radicalized in mosques, he said. "That's not the case," Qadhi said. "Every one of these kids is alienated from local mosques."
When young people are questioning U.S. foreign policy and there is not honest discussion taking place in the mosque, they look for information on the internet, Qadhi said. "This is a battle that is taking place online," he said.
The average Muslim family is not likely to be affected by radicalism, he said. "To put it in broader perspective, quantitatively there have only been a few dozen of these cases," Qadhi said. "It is a problem. Each one is a problem. But the average Muslim family is more worried about drugs and car accidents just like any other American family."
Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, begins June 17 and the Birmingham Islamic Society will welcome visitors to the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center. Visiting groups are welcome to schedule appointments to have dinner at the mosque. The center will offer presentations to visitors every night of Ramadan, which ends July 17.
"We want the community at large to come visit us," Taufique said. "If there is ever a time when they can come and meet us, this is the time. We are going to do a whole lot for our community by sitting down and talking to each other. We've got American values, we follow our own faith, and that's the American way."