Crime & Justice

San Bernardino attack renews SoCal Muslims' anxieties

A Muslim man prays in the mosque during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
A Muslim man prays in the mosque during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A Muslim man prays in the mosque during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
Muslims from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community pray at the Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino, California on December 3, 2015, where people attended a prayer vigil to commemorate lives lost a day after the tragedy in San Bernardino.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
A Muslim man prays in the mosque during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
People arrive at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Chino, California on December 3, 2015, for prayers at the Baitul Hameed Mosque to commemorate lives lost a day after the tragedy in San Bernardino.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
A Muslim man prays in the mosque during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
Preparations were underway at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Chino, California on December 3, 2015, where people attended a prayer vigil at the Baitul Hameed Mosque to commemorate lives lost a day after the tragedy in San Bernardino.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
A Muslim man prays in the mosque during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
Samar Natori (L), from Redlands, CA, with family and friends who are all Muslims arrive at a candlelight vigil at the San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino, California, December 3, 2015. Vigils were held all around the region to mourn the 14 victims of the previous day's mass shooting in San Bernardino.
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
A Muslim man prays in the mosque during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
Copies of the Quran sit on a table as Muslim men pray in the mosque during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


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Authorities had not even confirmed the identities of the two suspects in the San Bernardino massacre yet Wednesday when the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations convened a news conference to denounce the attack and try to create separation between the perpetrators and their religion.

Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, urged people to "not implicate Islam or Muslims" for the attack.

"Our faith has nothing to do with" the shooting, he said. "Our faith is against this kind of behavior."

The news conference surprised Edina Leckovic, public affairs consultant to the L.A. chapter of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, who heard about the press event while at a meeting. 

"I thought it was risky" when so much of the story was still unclear, she told KPCC. "Associating a person with the local Muslim community before there are more facts available ... creates a concern around whether it helps or hurts the cause of understanding and solidarity in moments like this

"It felt rash to me on first blush," she added.

Leckovic's attitude shifted when she saw footage of Farhan Khan, Syed Farook's brother-in-law, speaking at the news conference.

"Seeing the profound grief and dumbfoundedness of this poor man in some ways put a more human face to local Muslims who are feeling just as grief stricken and anxious as everyone else," she said.

Leckovic's conflicted response to the news conference reflects the larger struggle many Muslims experience when extremists commit atrocities in the name of Islam. Authorities have not determined a motive in the San Bernardino killings, but that did not stop the New York Post from headlining Thursday's front page story about the attack, "Muslim Killers."

Muslim Public Affairs Council's Leckovic complains the media has a double standard.  She cited last week's shootings at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

"The media took a big step back and was extremely cautious about talking about motivations, even though we're talking about an attack on a Planned Parenthood site," she said.

When a white male carries out a mass shooting, "there is not a rush to judgement against the entire population of  white males," Leckovic said. But when  a mass shooting is committed by a Muslim, "I think that we need to apply the same abundance of caution," because "the consequences of speculation can be that much more dangerous."

Leckovic said Muslims must press ahead with their efforts to counter negative stereotypes. Noting that the Quran teaches Muslims "to repel evil with what's better," she said her community needs to figure out the best way to do that.

"We have to show that we stand with people against a common enemy," she said.

Muslim women sit behind police officers during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
Muslim women sit behind police officers during a prayer vigil at Baitul Hameed Mosque on December 3, 2015 in Chino, California. The San Bernardino community is mourning as police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino that left at least 14 people dead and another 21 injured.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Having to constantly combat the impression that Muslims are terrorists has taken its toll on some, like 30-year-old Batoul Zbib of Orange. Zbib, a burn nurse at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, said she finally decided to distance herself from Islam.

It irritated her that before being able to sympathize with the victims of an attack, "you have to justify being a Muslim first. You're just detracting from the victims' pain," said Zbib.

"I didn't want people to ask me anymore what I thought about these kinds of incidents," she said. "I just had this monotone response over the years and I got sick and tired of listening to myself explain it." 

Zbib said she has stopped wearing a head scarf, and "if people ask, I say I don't belong to any religion. I just believe in God."

Zbib's story worries Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, religious leader of the Orange County Islamic Foundation in Mission Viejo. He said "people like Batoul are actually increasing in numbers." Terror attacks carried out by Islamist extremists "are making people question their faith," he added.

In an interview with KPCC's AirTalk, he argued that most of the extremists who carry out terror attacks "do not attend our Islamic centers. They are influenced by their own reading, by what they read on the internet." They have a low opinion of local Islamic scholars, he said, "because they question the credibility of these scholars."

His initial reaction to news of the attack was a familiar one for many Muslims.

"I thought, please let it not be another idiot who refers to himself as a member of our community," said Fazaga. When it turned out that the two suspects were Muslims, "my heart did sink," he said. "It was the biggest disappointment."

Syed Farook worshiped at the Islamic Center of Riverside for two years, but then abruptly stopped attending two years ago, mosque director Mustafa Kuko told the Los Angeles Times. 

Farook was quiet and kept to himself, Kuko said, adding that he was "serious about studying the Quran" and regularly attended early-morning and late-evening services. After Farook got married, the mosque hosted a celebration for the couple and their friends and relatives.

Farook apparently switched to another mosque - Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah in San Bernardino - according to two brothers who attend the mosque and spoke to the Associated Press.

Nizaam Ali and Rahemaan Ali said Farook had been a constant presence at the mosque for two years and had recently memorized the Quran. They characterized him as a devout Muslim who showed up to pray every day before he abruptly stopped showing up three weeks ago.

"When people do this, we have a lot of people like Batoul, who sincerely come out and say, 'I am a good person, I’ve always been devout, but looking into this I am not sure that I any longer want to belong to a community like this,'" Fazaga said. "It's very disheartening, it’s very upsetting, and it’s very sad."

He called on Muslims to conduct an "honest conversation." Part of that, he argued, is to ask, "why is it only the [extremist] Muslims who are actually misinterpreting" their holy book? "Why aren't the Christians? Why aren't the Jews? Why aren't the Sikhs? Why aren't the Buddhists doing this at this point?"