Note: The following by editor Richard K. Rein was a sidebar to the cover story.
While a political debate rages over whether the ISIS group is a terrorist group or an Islamic terrorist group, members of the Islamic community in central New Jersey are quietly performing good works for those in need. Sajid Syed and his wife, Simin Syed, have provided the initial impetus for the Medina Community Clinic that aims to bring underinsured and uninsured patients to physicians who will provide pro bono care that regular health clinics cannot offer.
The Syeds are joined by a cadre of other volunteers, many of whom are associated with the Institute of Islamic Studies — Moslems who are now completing the construction of a new mosque on Old Trenton Road in West Windsor. They emphasize that the new facility is a “community-based center” and that some of its programs will be of interest to people of all faiths.
Some politicians and commentators have criticized the American Muslim community for not speaking out strongly enough against the terrorists. But others point out that American Christians were not asked to explain their faith when the Branch Davidian sect confronted federal authorities in Waco, Texas, and wonder if Muslims are being held to a different standard.
The Syeds and others have not been silent: “I’ll tell you what we’ve done as a group at the mosque we attend,” says Sajid. “First of all, we condemn terrorism whenever it happens and wherever it happens. After the Paris massacre, we immediately put out a press release and posted it on our website. Earlier this year on the high holidays, we ran a full-page ad in the Trenton Times.”
A cover story in the March issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine drilled down more deeply into the issue. The article argued that the ISIS terrorists base many of their actions on their interpretation of the Koran and Muslim teachings. Trying to ignore the Islamic influences in the terrorist movement, Princeton Middle East scholar Bernard Haykel told the Atlantic, leads to a “cotton-candy view” of what motivates ISIS.
But, says Simin Syed, “we condemn the loss of any life, no matter what the religion is — this is something we believe in unequivocally. We place these advertisements and statements because sometimes people need to see that. Basically we condemn the attacks, and whoever has done this is not acting in the way of religion. We don’t even believe they are Muslims; a Muslim cannot take a life like this.”
As Haykel says in the Atlantic article, the important thing is “what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” For the Syeds and others from their mosque working to improve accessible healthcare in the community, their actions may speak louder than any words.