For US Muslims, Osama bin Laden death a ‘relief.’ Next: ‘Kill the ideology.’

American Muslims say they hope that the death of Osama bin Laden will ‘lower the temperature’ and end the association of Islam with terrorism.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer Christian Science Monitor

posted May 2, 2011 at 3:22 pm EDT

Chicago – American Muslims, like their non-Muslim peers, are welcoming the news that Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday. Many Muslims add that even though the death of the Al Qaeda leader is a positive step in fighting global terrorism, the greater challenge is ending the hateful dogma Mr. bin Laden represented – a dogma that many saw as a gross distortion of their faith.

Bin Laden’s ideologies created “an albatross around the practitioners of Islam, including American Muslims,” which is why his death prompts a collective “sigh of relief,” says Madhi Bray, spokesperson for the Muslim American Society, a civil liberties organization based in Washington, DC.

“You have the kill to ideology that has supported Al Qaeda. That’s going to be the great mission, to fight intolerance and the lack of sensitivity among people,” Mr. Bray says.

American Muslims ‘feel under attack’

Since 9/11, Muslims living in the US have faced bigotry on many levels, including having to justify their religious faith to non-believers. Many recount the days before Al Qaeda and bin Laden became household names, when Muslims could practice their faith quietly and mosques could open without protest.

But since the escalation of the war on terrorism, American Muslims continue to face what they say amounts to discrimination, ranging from a proposed ban on practicing sharia – currently moving through the Tennessee legislature and passed last year in Oklahoma – to what Ihsan Bagby, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, describes as “hateful looks.”

“Muslims in America feel under attack,” says Professor Bagby, who hopes that bin Laden’s death “will help lower the temperature and allow people to think more rationally and to understand that Muslims in general are unfairly being associated with terrorism.”

In his speech late Sunday that announced bin Laden’s death, President Obama paused to reiterate a point made repeatedly by President Bush in the wake of 9/11: “The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam.” Mr. Obama called bin Laden “a mass murder of Muslims” and “not a Muslim leader,” adding, “his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”

Osama bin Laden ‘never represented Muslims’

The distinction was reiterated by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim advocacy organization in Washington, DC, which said early Monday it joined American Muslims “in welcoming the announcement” that bin Laden “has been eliminated as a threat to our nation and the world.”

“As we have stated repeatedly since the 9/11 terror attacks, bin Laden never represented Muslims or Islam. In fact, in addition to the killing of thousands of Americans, he and Al Qaeda caused the deaths of countless Muslims worldwide,” said CAIR in a statement.

Bin Laden’s actions were so vilified by American Muslim organizations that many did not even consider him a member of their faith. “I personally would not consider him a Muslim,” said Victor Begg, spokesman for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, located in Warren.

In a news conference held early Monday, Mr. Begg referred to bin Laden as “a murderer” whose directives and philosophies “were not Islamic.”

Some American Muslims say the successful end to the 10-year manhunt should serve as a wake-up call to followers who might consider taking up bin Laden’s fight.

“We are hopeful that the message was heard loud and clear, that if any Americans or allies are targeted by terrorism, our country will hunt you down and bring you to justice – no matter how long it takes,” says Najee Ali, director of Project Islamic HOPE (Helping Oppressed People Everywhere), an advocacy organization in Los Angeles.

Bambade Shakoor-Abdullah, director of the Chicago Metropolitan Educational Center for Community Advancement, says bin Laden’s plan for the 9/11 attacks – and the actions of his followers that day – violated several core components of Islamic law, or sharia. That pits the terrorists fundamentally in opposition to Islam – much as the Ku Klux Klan would never represent Christianity, despite borrowing Christian symbolism like the cross.

Bin Laden and Al Qaeda “need to be seen as who they are,” says Ms. Shakoor-Abdullah, adding that she hopes his death will help close the perceived divide between American Muslims and their non-believer peers.

“We want justice to be served so we can begin to be healed as a nation,” she says. “Because we are one nation.”

With Dan Wood reporting from Los Angeles.

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