Thursday, May 12, 2005

A local Islamic group is aiming to have more than 1,000 Muslims, Christians and Jews rally against terrorism tomorrow in the District.

The group Free Muslims Against Terrorism, headed by Kamal Nawash, has organized the ‘March Against Terror,’ which will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. at Freedom Plaza.

March organizers said the event is the ‘front line’ in an ideological war against radical Islamic teachings.

‘Most people talk about a clash of civilizations, between Islam and the West. This is totally wrong,’ said Mr. Nawash, 35, a Palestinian-born lawyer who has become a U.S. citizen.

‘The battle today is between modernist Muslims who live in the 21st century, who believe in secularism, democracy and women’s rights, and those who want to live in the 14th century, the traditionalists,’ he said.

Mr. Nawash, a former candidate for the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates, has generated a national profile in the past year by participating in hundreds of radio and television interviews. His year-old group promotes a secular interpretation of Islam.

More than 80 groups, including the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), have signed on as supporters of the rally.

AIFD leader M. Zuhdi Jasser, a 37-year old physician, said groups like his and Mr. Nawash’s are different from traditional Muslim groups because they denounce Islamic radicalism.

‘There is a big difference between condemnation when you are pressed and leadership to root out the cancer in our midst,’ said Dr. Jasser, the U.S.-born son of Syrian parents who fled their homeland in 1966.

Dr. Jasser, who left the Navy as a lieutenant commander in 1999, is scheduled to speak at the rally.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has criticized Mr. Nawash, will not participate.

CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said the group will conduct its own conference tomorrow. He referred questions about Mr. Nawash to Hussein Ibish of the Progressive Muslim Union, a group of mostly young Muslims based in New York.

Mr. Ibish said Mr. Nawash has gone too far in apologizing to the American public for radical Islamic terrorism.

“It’s debasing and buys into a discourse of stereotyping and discrimination against American Muslims,” Mr. Ibish said.

Some local Muslim leaders expressed suspicions about the political motives of Mr. Nawash, who ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Virginia offices.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, director of community outreach at the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, where about 3,000 attend Friday prayers, said Mr. Nawash “has a credibility problem.”

Mr. Abdul-Malik said he thinks the march is an extension of Mr. Nawash’s agenda to garner personal attention.

Some local clerics are tacitly supporting the march. Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque, where about 1,000 attend Friday prayers, is sending an announcement about the rally to the mosque’s e-mail list.

“There is no official endorsement, but we are sending it to our list. We will give the community a chance to make its own mind,” Mr. Magid said.

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