As details emerged Monday about two gunmen killed outside a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, North Texas Muslim leaders denounced violence and stressed that they want to promote peace and respect First Amendment rights.
“We condemn this violence or any violence in the name of Islam or any religion,” said Saima Sheikh, member of Dallas chapter of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and a spokeswoman for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. “Love for all, hatred for none. We strongly believe in that.”
A police officer shot and killed two gunmen who opened fire outside the Curtis Culwell Center in the suburb east of Dallas Sunday. A security officer who was wounded by the gunmen has been released from the hospital.
The two have been identified as Elton Simpson of Phoenix and Nadir Soofi, reportedly his roommate.
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Muslim leaders across the nation Monday echoed Sheikh’s non-violent message. Qasim Rashid, national spokesman for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, said the community champions free speech and secular governance. CAIR National, described as the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, also denounced the violence.
Muslim leaders said the violent acts of extremists don’t represent the mindset of hundreds of thousands of North Texas Muslims.
Imam Moujahed M. Bakhach of the Islamic Association of Tarrant County said their community has grown from four mosques in the early 1980s to about 65 in North Texas today.
“The Muslim community in North Texas is very respectful,” said Bakhach, who himself made local headlines earlier this year when he offered a public prayer at the Fort Stock Show and Rodeo. Rodeo fans took to social media to blast the Stock Show for allowing a Muslim to pray at the event.
The Garland cartoon contest was hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative. The group was awarding $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad — knowing that many Muslims consider any drawings of Muhammad offensive.
The event featured speeches by American Freedom Defense Initiative president Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker known for his outspoken criticism of Islam.
Bakhach said Muslim leaders urged people not to protest and to simply ignore the contest. “Don’t pay attention to this event,” Imam Moujahed M. Bakhach said North Texas Muslims were told. “Please do not react to this. They want us to react.”
Rashid said that while his group didn’t support the event, they could not tolerate or accept violence as a response.
“Islam champions free speech,” Rashid said, adding that his group urges community dialogue.
“Let’s find ways to work together,” he said.
This report contains material from The Associated Press.