Muslim leaders in the Washington area condemned yesterday's suicide bombing at a Shi'ite mosque in northern Iraq, saying such actions violate the heart and soul of Islam.
"This does not help the Iraqis, it does not help Islam, and it does not help the children of Iraq looking for a future," said Imam Mohamed Magid, leader of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS), one of the area's largest Sunni mosques.
"It would not be fair if it was criticized as a problem with Islam," Mr. Magid said. "You can have violence among the people of religion, but that does not mean the religion endorses that."
Imam Hameed Asghar of the Dar-ul Huda mosque in Springfield said Muslims around the world know "that to attack or kill or harm any peaceful person or citizen, regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim, is not permissible."
"It's absolutely wrong," Mr. Asghar said. "Why it's happening, we don't understand that at all."
A suicide bomber yesterday exploded a device in the courtyard of a Shi'ite mosque during a funeral in Mosul, Iraq, killing himself and 47 mourners.
Tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq have mounted since the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein and the formation of a democratic government.
"It is bad. It is extremely bad," said Zahid Bukhari, director and principal co-investigator of the Muslims in the American Public Square (MAPS) project at Georgetown University. "It's the extreme nature of ignorance and the extreme nature of violence, when people are willing to kill in the name of religion."
Sunnis, an ethnic minority in Iraq, had held most of the powerful positions under Saddam, himself a Sunni. Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq toppled Saddam's regime, Shi'ite Iraqis have anticipated a long-awaited rise to power.
Shi'ites won 48 percent of the legislative seats in the Jan. 30 Iraqi national election, and some Sunnis have fueled the insurgency to thwart the Shi'ites.
"There are and were efforts to create cleavage between Shia and Sunnis. Right now, I think the Sunnis are probably feeling a lot of pain because they were in power," Mr. Bukhari said. "Right now, the situation is changed, but who knows what is going on?"
He said that it was too soon to attribute the bombing to Sunnis, and said the two groups, despite their differences, "are moving forward politically."
Mr. Magid said the intra-Islamic violence is bad for all religions. "It makes people think that religion is a social problem. It's just another reason for people to believe that religion is not good for peace," he said.
Mr. Bukhari and Mr. Magid both pointed to the long-running violent struggle between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland as evidence that other religions have internal tensions.
Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims have clashed violently in Pakistan and India before, including in mosques and holy places, Mr. Bukhari said. "But it never came to here in the United States."
Most D.C.-area mosques are Sunni, Mr. Bukhari said.
Imam Adil Khan of the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, said a Shi'ite mosque stands near MCC. He said Muslims at his mosque have good relations with Muslims from the Shi'ite mosque.
When an earthquake devastated Bam, Iran, in December 2003, MCC held a fund-raiser for the Shi'ite mosque, many of whose worshippers had emigrated from Iran.
"We have good relations with everybody. There are no hardships, bad relations, enemies," Mr. Khan said.