Imam Mohamed Magid, the chief imam at the third-largest mosque in America, has counseled several teens who sought to join ISIS in its effort to establish a caliphate across Iraq and Syria.
So we traveled to the ADAMS Center in Sterling, Virginia to find out how he talks someone out of joining ISIS.
Imam Magid’s approach can be summed up in one phrase:
ISIS, he said, uses such a distorted interpretation of the Quran and Islamic history, it’s easy to deconstruct. Here is what he’s said to would-be recruits:
1. The words of the Quran undermine ISIS. “I say, ‘can you explain to me, where in Islam you can burn someone alive?’ He couldn’t…There is no any evidence from the holy Quran or the teaching of the prophet Mohammed, peace be on him, allowing to burn someone alive. There is evidence against that!”
2. Have you helped Muslims? “One of the things they said to me, Muslims are being humiliated all around the world… And I said, do you think ISIS really is helping? ISIS killed more Muslims than any other organization. … Why don’t you really be part of relief effort, as we did in Fairfax County. We gather blanket every winter and send them to Syria refugees.”
3. ISIS is a big question mark. “I ask, ‘is it clear-cut in Islam that you must take care of your mother?’…He said, ‘there is no doubt on that, the importance of taking care of my mother’… I said, ‘pleasing God by taking care of your mother, there is no doubt about that. Pleasing God by doing ISIS, is a big question mark!'”
Magid described the teenagers he counseled as a vulnerable and insular, similar to the kind of people who join gangs and the mosque works with law enforcement officials when the danger becomes imminent. Many of the would-be recruits struggle with mental health issues.
“I don’t know why people do not consider the mental health factor when it comes to Muslims,” he exclaimed. They think Muslims don’t go crazy? If a guy who is not Muslim do something wrong, a teenager, the first thing they say, well, make an evaluation of their mental health. But a Muslim, no no. Mental health is good! You know, he has no disturbance mentally!”
ISIS’ extensive social media network carries at least 500 million messages a day through more than 46,000 Twitter accounts. But Magid will soon unveil a virtual effort to combat ISIS propaganda directly, relying on imams and young people to counter the group on Twitter and Facebook.
“[ISIS’ narrative about Islam] is not an acceptable narrative. I’m creating the meta-narrative. The true narrative of Islam,” he said.