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Muslim leaders condemn San Bernardino shootings, say communities fear anti-Islam backlash

A mourner cries as she brings flowers to a roadblock outside of the Inland Regional Center Thursday in San Bernardino, Calif. Police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Center that left at least 14 people dead and another 17 injured.
A mourner cries as she brings flowers to a roadblock outside of the Inland Regional Center Thursday in San Bernardino, Calif. Police continue to investigate a mass shooting at the Center that left at least 14 people dead and another 17 injured. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Muslim leaders in Maryland and across the country condemned the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., and said they feared the incident would add fuel to rising anti-Islamic feeling.

Investigators have not determined a motive in the shooting that left 14 people dead, but one of the suspects, Syed Rizwan Farook, was reportedly a devout Muslim. Authorities have not ruled out terrorism as a motive.

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"The vast majority of the Muslim community here in Maryland is absolutely horrified and appalled by the mass shooting," said Zainab Chaudry, Maryland outreach manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Police say Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, wore tactical gear and carried assault rifles when they opened fire during a holiday party at a social services facility. The couple was killed in a shootout with police.

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CAIR planned a vigil at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring on Friday for the victims of San Bernardino and those in other shootings. Muslim groups around the country organized similar events, including a prayer vigil organized by the largest mosque in San Bernardino County.

"Our communities are heartbroken," Chaudry said.

Anti-Islamic rhetoric has been rising since the ISIS attacks in Paris last month.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, for instance, has said he would be open to creating a national database of Muslims and monitoring mosques, and claimed that "thousands and thousands" of Muslim Americans in New Jersey celebrated the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001— something for which no evidence has emerged.

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"Politicians are saying things very irresponsibly, and those statements are reverberating across the masses," said Michael Smith, imam of the Islamic Society of Annapolis and resident scholar at the Islamic Society of Baltimore. "That's dangerous, extremely dangerous."

Smith said he worries the rhetoric will increase polarization and fear in America.

"ISIS and other extremists, they want polarization," Smith said. "That's how warmongers work."

When a violent act occurs, Chaudry said, it has become commonplace for Muslims to fear that the perpetrator will turn out to have been a Muslim.

Mixed with feelings of grief and horror, she said, "is that sense of dread, that 'Dear God, don't let it be a Muslim.'"

"It's a struggle for Muslims across the country," she said.

She said she had received hateful messages on email and social media in response to the California shootings — but also messages from those who want to support Muslims.

The Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations CAIR held a news conference soon after Farook was named as a suspect Wednesday. Farook's brother-in-law appeared at the event.

"I am very sad, deeply sad and shocked, something like this happened here in my community," Farhan Khan said. "I love this country. ... On behalf of my family, we all are shocked and very sorry for what happened."

Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the council's Los Angeles chapter, said the organization "unequivocally" condemned the "horrific act."

"We stand in solidarity with fellow Americans as we offer our condolences," he said. "We stand in solidarity in repudiating any possible ideology or mindset that could have led to such a horrific act."

Some said Muslims face a double standard.

"We don't expect Christians to condemn the Planned Parenthood shooting," said Qasim Rashid, spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, referring to last week's shooting in Colorado. "That would be ridiculous. ... We need to recognize that terrorism has no religion. We need to stand united against intolerance, against bigotry, and certainly against terrorism and violence."

Shahab Qarni, of the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council, said the local Muslim community has built interfaith alliances with groups representing Jews, Catholics and others in the years since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The only thing we can do is keep engaged with different communities," he said.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA is gearing up for a national campaign to dispel common misconceptions about Islam, Rashid said.

"You can either … play the victim card or you can march forward and open your doors for more dialogue," he said. "We're going to use this as an opportunity to build bridges."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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