A recent spate of arrests of Muslims accused of terrorism in the United States has revealed that many of them were radicalized by militant preaching they found on the Internet.
Now nine influential American Muslim scholars have come together in a YouTube video to repudiate the militants’ message. The nine represent a diversity of theological schools within Islam, and several of them have large followings among American Muslim youths.
The video is one indication that American Muslim leaders are increasingly engaging the war of ideas being waged within Islam.
“We need to shepherd our own flock and to say that, theologically, these things are unacceptable,” said Imam Suhaib Webb, the educational director for the Muslim American Society, a grass-roots group in Santa Clara, Calif., who is among the nine in the video. “The Prophet Muhammad, when on the battlefield, saw that amongst the enemy there were innocent women and children killed, and he was openly angry. He is prohibiting us from killing the innocent. It is very clear.”
Mr. Webb said in an interview on Friday that as a white convert from Oklahoma, he had become deeply alarmed in the past year at the number of converts who had been arrested on charges of planning or carrying out violence in the name of Islam.
In July alone, one American convert in Virginia and another in Alaska who were arrested and accused of having ties to terrorism were both said to have been influenced by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born militant cleric now hiding in Yemen who maintains an active Web site.
Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, who is also in the video, said, “We’re hoping that that loner out there who, because of internal turmoil, starts listening to the wrong people, that this message also filters into his ear.”
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said of the video: “It can be a powerful outlet. It is the kind of thing that, formatwise, is matching what’s being done by the jihadist groups.”
He said that some of the scholars in the video were politically controversial but had credibility among many Muslims because they were not seen as “sell-outs.”
“Some would argue that they might be more effective than those perceived as more establishment figures,” said Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, the author of “My Year Inside Radical Islam.”
Among the nine are several converts to Islam who are popular because they are steeped in both American culture and Islamic scholarship. They include Sheik Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, scholars who have founded Zaytuna College, an Islamic seminary in Hayward, Calif.
The video, which is about five and a half minutes long, opens with ominous music, like that used in some of the jihadists’ propaganda videos, and the words “Believers Beware: Injustice Cannot Defeat Injustice.”
“Many people are saying that there are so many issues of injustice taking place around the world,” Imam Mohamed Magid, leader of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, a mosque in Virginia, says in the video. “That is true, we acknowledge the injustice taking place around the world. But we believe there is a way to address the injustice — not by taking innocent people’s lives.”
Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the advocacy group that produced the video, said they intentionally chose scholars who represent a diversity of theological streams.
“We didn’t want to just target the liberals or the conservatives or ultraconservatives,” Ms. Lekovic said. “The point was to show that no matter where you stand on the religious spectrum, we all have a shared belief and shared outrage by the events that are taking place.”
She said the only criticism the council had received was that there were no female scholars in the video — a fact she attributed to scheduling problems. She said the council expected to make another video that would include women. The group is also preparing another version, without the music, for Muslims who consider music haram, or forbidden.
Mr. Magid said in an interview: “This is the beginning of a greater effort. Imams have to be virtual imams, answering questions on the Web, having blogs. We have to have open discussions for youths to talk about what is frustrating them.”