Long Island Mosque Tackles Radicalization with Message of Hope

Islamic Center of Long Island
Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. (Photo credit: Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

In what could be considered a call to action for Long Island Muslims, a prominent Imam from Egypt on Friday encouraged the congregation at a Westbury mosque to rise above the challenges facing the community amid a rise of both Islamophobia and extremism.

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“We know as good practicing Muslims we should not bury our heads in the sand,” Sheikh Ibrahim Negm, visiting scholar from Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, told the congregation at the Islamic Center of Long Island during his sermon on Friday. “Rather, we should rise to meet the difficult challenges we are facing.”

Negm, an advisor to the Grand Mufti of Egypt, has headlined a three-day lecture series at the ICLI this week that concludes Saturday night.

Titled “Upholding Moderation & Resisting Radicalization,” the series hopes to reach out to young people and anyone else in the community disheartened by anti-Muslim rhetoric whipping through the media and American politics.

The ICLI, which last year launched an interfaith institute, has spearheaded efforts to address Islamophobia with educational services and events that focus on religious solidarity. The mosque has also been instrumental in addressing misconceptions about the religion and has vocally condemned attacks by bloodthirsty extremists groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Muslims are often criticized for not doing enough to impede a person’s path toward radicalization. The ICLI is taking the proactive step of addressing the issue by empowering those within the community.

In an interview, Negm said the purpose of his sermon was to present a framework that the community can use to be more involved. He admitted that he does not have all the answers.

As someone who does not live in the community, Negm said, “I cannot suggest practical steps” but rather a “framework” that will guide congregants forward.

“We are facing…whether we are talking about this part of the world or globally, we are facing imminent challenges as Muslims,” Negm told the packed mosque.

He reminded Islam’s adherents that such speed bumps are ingrained in the religion—tests that every Muslim must confront.

“We shall be visited with trial and tribulations,” Negm said, citing the Koran. He added, “Life on this planet Earth is a testing ground.”

It’s normal for people to feel anguish over Islamophobic remarks, but it’s important not to fall into a state of despair, Negm explained.

“Don’t get overwhelmed by what we are going through,” he added.

Negm stopped short of instructing the community about how to act as a collective voice, opting instead to inspire change on a local level.

“Are we doing the homework or are we just passing the buck?” he asked, rhetorically. “We should take ownership of the situation we are experiencing and see what we can do.”

The third and final installment of the ICLI’s “Upholding Moderation & Resisting Radicalization” series is Saturday at 7:15 p.m. 835 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury.