Imam at COD: ISIS terrorists are monsters, not Islamic

Azam Akram wants to clarify a few things.

Speaking as part of Stop the CrISIS, a campaign to dispel rumors pertaining to Islam, the imam of one of Chicago's oldest mosques said there is only one God. The words Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, God - they're all the same in his mind.

Islam means peace. Anyone who claims otherwise, he says, is mistaken.

The Quran does not encourage violence. Akram says he has never read a phrase in the religious text that supports acts like stoning or beheading.

And extremism needs to be stopped. One way to join in that effort, he says, is to quit using the term "Islamic State," or "ISIS."

"To say any of these people are Muslims is wrong," he said. "The word 'ISIS' gives these monsters legitimacy."

Instead, Akram, suggests using the Arabic word "daesh," which he said means "something that you stomp on."

"We condemn any act of violence, any act of terrorism, and I, as an imam, condemn it vehemently," he said. "These recent acts in Paris and in Beirut and in Nigeria and all over the world that are supposedly perpetrated in the name of Islam are absolutely wrong."

For the past year, members of the international Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, such as Akram, have been hosting events around the country to educate Muslims and non-Muslims about the importance of addressing radicalization, terrorism and ignorance.

On Wednesday, the group made two presentations at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Akram led the conversation, which touched on the meaning of various Islamic words such as sharia law and jihad, the economic factors contributing to the rise of ISIS, and the Ahmadiyya community's focus on peace and moderation.

"Our community's motto, since the very beginning, has been love for all, hatred for none," he said. "In this day and age, we don't need to be divided - Muslims, Christians, even among ourselves within the Islamic community. There's no room for division anymore, because what groups like (ISIS) play off is the us-versus-you mentality."

Akram said he has dedicated his life to eradicating misconceptions that exist in Islam, but it is difficult. One challenge, he said, is that some other Muslim institutions are presenting followers with what he believes is "the wrong version" of the religion.

"People are being taught the radicalized version," he said. "We make sure that anybody who comes to our mosques, anybody that we are in contact with, we sort of keep them on the straight line, recalibrate that compass, if you will."

Another challenge, Akram said, is that people everywhere need to better understand that Islam is an ideology and terrorism is a tactic. It's important to draw a line between the two, he said, because ISIS is trying to meld them.

"That's their agenda, to get legitimization by attaching themselves to an ideology and making that ideology their tactic," he said, adding that the group regularly publicizes messages from the Quran taken out of context.

There are other factors that have helped ISIS gain followers too, he said, such as poverty in places like India and Pakistan, where young, impressionable orphans are being recruited by the group, and a lack of jobs in places like Europe, where educated Muslims struggling to make ends meet start to grow resentful and turn to ISIS as a solution.

ISIS forges on, Akram said, not only because it has a population that "is willing for it to exist," but also because it continues to secure an enormous amount of funding. There are reports, he said, of ISIS bringing in about $3 million a day, through oil, looting, human trafficking and selling artifacts on the black market, among other sources.

"Where is this group getting its money from? That's the question we have to ask ourselves," he said.

Akram also worries anti-Muslim comments and misinformation about Islam being spread by U.S. leaders will only exacerbate radicalization. Through Stop the CrISIS, he hopes more truths about the religion will continue to be spread.

"You have to eradicate the ignorance that is within us because ignorance leads to misunderstanding," he said. "Misunderstanding leads to fear. Fear leads to hatred. Hatred leads to anger. And anger ultimately leads to violence. This is the cycle (ISIS followers) have gone through. This is the cycle that I fear very much, with this rhetoric that is being spread in the United States."

College of DuPage student Rafaye Iqbal said he has attended several other events on similar topics but felt most of them were "ineffective."

"This actually was a very good one," he said. "I'm glad the imam was levelheaded. He kept it pretty straightforward and I'm glad he stuck to the facts. He kept quoting the Quran, he quoted the right things. And he cleared up a lot of misconceptions."

Benedictine University student Zak Malik, a member of the Ahmadiyya community, said he also was pleased with the presentation.

"We've been taking steps to stop this radicalization," he said. "When people ask, 'Where are the moderate Muslims?' we're right here. We're trying to do our part and hopefully it brings some change."

  Imam Azam Akram condemned all acts of violence and terrorism "supposedly perpetrated in the name of Islam" during a Stop the CrISIS event at College of DuPage. Brian Hill/
  Imam Azam Akram encouraged others to stop using the term "ISIS" during a lecture at College of DuPage Wednesday. "The word 'ISIS' gives these monsters legitimacy," he said. Instead, he suggests using the Arabic word "daesh," which means "something that you stomp on." Brian Hill/
  More than 40 students and community members attended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's Stop the CrISIS event Wednesday at College of DuPage. Brian Hill/
  The crowd listens as the Imam Azam Akram talk about the importance of addressing radicalization, terrorism and ignorance. Brian Hill/
  A series of short videos were aired during a program titled Stop the CrISIS sponsored by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community at College of DuPage. Brian Hill/
  Dr. Kaleem Malik of Burr Ridge poses a question to Imam Azam Akram during the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's Stop the CrISIS event Wednesday morning at College of DuPage. Brian Hill/
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