Police investigations have revealed that Islamic radicalization was likely the motive behind the mass shootings in San Bernardino, but area Muslim leaders have been quick to strongly emphasize that in true Islam, "there is no justification" for such acts of terror.
"There is nothing in our faith that would require or allow someone to take 14 innocent lives," said Mohammad Abdul Aleem, CEO of www.islamicity.com, a leading online source of Islamic information that aims to aims to advance understanding and promote peace among people of all faith traditions.
Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, killed 14 people and wounded 21 at the Inland Regional Center Dec. 2.
"Over and over again, our religion teaches us not to harm people, that to take even one life is like killing all of humanity, and saving one life is saving all of humanity," he told The Tidings, the newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.
In the days that have followed the murderous rampage, people of all ages, races and religions have participated in prayer vigils across Southern California and beyond, gathering in stadiums, churches, Islamic centers and other venues to remember the victims and show a prayerful, unite response to such violence.
Aleem said he vehemently agrees with President Barack Obama's recent pronouncement that Islamic terrorists are "criminals and thugs who do not represent any community, any faith or anyone!"
According to Father Alexei Smith, director of the Los Angeles Archdiocese's Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, no one should allow these tragedies to distort our view of an entire religion, nor accept bigotry to replace our inherent brotherhood.
"Pope Francis reminded us when he visited a mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic (in late November) that 'Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such,'" said Father Smith. "That is our challenge today -- to not let the actions of radicals and fundamentalists divert us from living as brothers and sisters."
Unfortunately, an anti-Muslim backlash often follows in the wake of terrorist incidents like the one in San Bernardino, most notably evidenced by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who Dec. 7 called for all Muslims to be barred temporarily from entering the U.S. until the government figures out what is behind attacks like that in San Bernardino. He had previously called for surveillance at mosques and said he was open to establishing a database for all U.S. Muslims.
His latest remarks were roundly condemned by his fellow Republican candidates, the Democratic presidential candidates and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, among others.
To help counteract a growing anti-Muslim sentiment and spread a message of peace and unity, Father Smith and a Muslim colleague were offering presentations to any parish or organization interested in learning "what Islam actually teaches and where our faiths resonate," he explained.
Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, laments the burgeoning disregard for the sanctity of human life found increasingly the world over, among radicalized terrorists as well as many other segments of society.
"This growing violence is a challenge for all of us," Syed told The Tidings. "As long as human life is not seen as a blessing from God, people are unable to see the value of life. As a result, people are hurting and killing each other all around the world for many different reasons."
Aleem shared similar thoughts.
"My greatest concern right now is that we are being desensitized by these events; it's becoming the norm—another shooting, another act of violence," said Aleem, noting that, whether a tragedy is deemed an Islam-inspired act of "terrorism" or a "mass shooting" incident, they are all "senseless violence."
Syed said he believes the first step toward combating such a culture of violence is to "dig deep into our own hearts and ... reconnect with our Creator, establish a relationship with God to heal our hearts." The next step is to "come together more"—with people of all faiths, religious and civic leaders, and both the public and private sectors—and to "reaffirm our collective beliefs, to fight this cancer of violence."
"Some of the people I have mourned with, cried with, prayed with, marched with and leaned on have been people of all faiths (and backgrounds): Catholic, Jewish, Japanese-Americans, African-Americans," Syed continued, emphasizing that mutual support and solidarity among all peoples are imperative to "help build a society where people respect each other for who they are."
In an expression of such solidarity for the victims of the San Bernardino shooting, the Muslim community across Southern California launched a fundraiser to benefit surviving family members. In less than a week, the online campaign had raised more than $85,000.