Minnesota Muslim Activist Defends His Faith Against Radicalism

He says it's his responsibility to "save the religion I love from a small number of extremists."

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Abdirizak Bihi (the Washington Post)

As part of the Washington Post's "Under Suspicion" series' examination of the lives of American Muslims since the Sept. 11 attacks, Eli Saslow has profiled Abdirizak Bihi, whose story is another example of just how complicated those lives and our perceptions of them can be.

The Somali-American man is the founder, director and sole employee of a community-based counterterrorism program in Minneapolis. He has testified at the controversial Capitol Hill hearings on Muslim radicalization, and the FBI and the Justice Department rely on his help during investigations of terrorist threats.

Meanwhile, he struggles to gain financial support from the politicians who endorse his efforts, and operates with little funding from an area where at least 25 young men, including his 17-year-old nephew, have disappeared to fight for the militant Somali group al-Shabab in the past three years.

Many mosques, elected officials and even law enforcement agencies have hesitated to address the radicalization of a small percentage of U.S. Muslims, because the topic itself is so divisive. The focus on homegrown jihad is considered either the next front in the war on terrorism or an Islamophobic witch hunt sure to create more ill will.

Bihi describes himself as an observant Muslim who prays daily and fasts during Ramadan. He said it is his responsibility to “save the religion I love from a very small number of extremists.”

Officially, Bihi is the director of the Somali Education and Special Advocacy Center, but in truth he is the center, aided only by a Samsung cellphone and a donated desk in the offices of Mo’s Building Maintenance. His program is part of an emerging movement that Washington officials refer to as "CVE," or "countering violent extremism." The idea is simple: Inoculate young Muslims against the risks of radicalization by making them feel entrenched and happy in their communities. The execution is much more complex.

Source: the Washington Post.

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