Shahnaz Khan: Addressing Radicalization Within Our Community

Dr. Shahnaz Khan is a physician and Founding Member of Pakistani American Association of Tampa Bay. She served on the Board of PAKPAC, and is also a Founding Member of the Human Development Foundation. She is a Life Member of APPNA, past President of FJMC Alumni, Founding Member and past President of APPNA FL Chapter, and is now chairing Rise for Equality USA, which she co-founded with Jawad Ahmad.


I was born and raised in Pakistan.  I attended Fatima Jinnah Medical School, and  currently live and practice family medicine in Florida. I have been involved in community organizations for a long time.  I even taught Sunday school for a while.

The recent incident in San Bernardino left many of us startled. The majority of us are distraught at what is happening and are sick of seeing Muslims involved in terror attacks. We are all struggling to cope with this onslaught of radicalization of Muslim youth in this country. Many of us have seen with our own eyes the transformation of young Muslim Americans from out going and fun loving to becoming more withdrawn, wearing hijab, growing beard, and wearing long Arabic outfits. Of course, it does not mean that they have become terrorists. Yet, the change should be watched and monitored.

We all condemn these attacks at an individual level and many Muslim organizations issue such statements.  But just feelings, thoughts, and words are not going to change anything on the ground.  Even continuing to repeat “Islam is a religion of peace” until we are blue in our face will not change much. Yes, we can try and intermingle more with our neighbors and co-workers, but it is only a superficial and temporary band aid. We aren’t carrying out sustainable solutions to address the problem of radicalization at its core.

As Muslim Americans, we have to take practical steps.  And we can start by looking inwards.  Following are some pragmatic suggestions:

As always, follow the money. Who is funding the masjid or Islamic center? If you know your masjid is being supported by outside funding from Middle East (KSA), you need to raise voice and stop that. Money always comes with strings attached. There are many centers in the US and even Europe with questionable funding. And if this results in closing the masjid, so be it. In fact, the US government should be looking into this.

Scrutinize the Imam. Where was he trained? Who is paying him? What does he talk about during sermons? How does he treat his family? How does he deal with criticism? Is he open minded? If he does not fit these criteria, replace him. Do a background check. Find out about his past. If you can’t find a replacement, forgo the Imam. There is no clergy in Islam. Hire someone for maintenance of the masjid only.

Don’t be governed by fear. Develop a system of monitoring young people, so authorities don’t have to. If you see signs of someone becoming a “good Muslim”, do not presume the person has become God loving human being. Do not be afraid to speak up. I know people are intimidated and even fearful to say negative things about those who look “more Muslim” in their appearance. But looks are and can be deceiving.

Develop a system of vigilance in the community. Make it a rule so it is applied uniformly to all. Try to get to know all your community members, especially all new comers, and what they do. Where they are from? What is their background? Know their children and families.

Of course, this is not an comprehensive list of things to do. There are some deeper causes of this transformation of youth which needs to be addressed. We don’t have to become paranoid, but we also don’t need to be caught by surprise.

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