After a religious service Friday afternoon in Rock Hill, many of the worshipers sat around a table and talked about the 17 people in France – 12 at a newspaper office and five more elsewhere – killed by terrorists this week.
They spoke – some close to tears – about the three-day terror siege during which gunmen killed hostages before being killed themselves.
The people at the house of worship used the words “criminal” and “terrorists” and “cowards.” They called those who use violence and killing “the worst in the world.” They said France and all nations must be “severe” and must “strongly punish” any who would kill in the name of any God or any religion.
These men all spoke of how freedom of speech can never be allowed to be targeted, that free speech is more powerful than any gun or bomb, and that “we are all human beings together.”
The people who were sickened by the attacks, who demand that those who kill be punished, are all Muslims.
The men all spoke of how terrorist organizations – the gunmen in France claimed al-Qaida links – target the weak, the desperate, radicalizing them into committing atrocious acts that are not Islam, even when the terrorists claim to be acting under its banner.
Fahad Mansouri, 27, a Winthrop University student from Saudi Arabia, said free speech, free expression, is a basic human right of all people of all religions. The terrorists who killed the newspaper people and the hostages, he said, committed an “atrocity.”
“Terrorism in any form, what these people did in France, is not Islam,” Mansouri said. “Muslims do not condone this in any way. It is wrong, and these people are cowards and criminals.”
The conversation took place inside the Masjid Al-Salaam, which translates to “Mosque of Peace.” The mosque, which opened in 2013, is the faith home to people with roots in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and America. Muslim businesspeople, professors at Winthrop and York Technical College, students at both colleges, and many others are members.
“We are Muslims, but we are Americans, and we are people of the world,” said mosque spokesman Jasiri Makadara. “We believe and know that free speech, freedom for all, is a human right of all people.
“These people in France who commit crimes, who kill and maim, they are not Muslims. They are criminals.”
Rock Hill’s mosque, like any house of worship, routinely opens its doors to visitors of any faith. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Muslims in Rock Hill and at the Holy Islamville compound near York have invited the media, law enforcement officers, politicians and the public to its services to make sure their neighbors know they are people of peace.
“Radicalism is always wrong; killing is always wrong,” said Rock Hill native James “Jumah” Moore, director of the Islamic Center of South Carolina. “These people in France are not representative of Muslims. They did something that is a crime against their religion and a crime against humanity.”
Abdul Khanani, a local dry cleaner, said France must act swiftly to deter future terrorism, as all countries should do.
“There is no place for killing in any country, any religion,” he said.
Even the weekly message from the mosque’s imam – who is sort of like a preacher or rabbi – was filled with repeated reminders that Islam is not about “revenge” or “retribution” and that people of all faiths must denounce violence.
About 100 people attended the service, people who talked as they left of the terrorism in France that left so many dead, causing France and the world to be sickened by the violence.
They talked about the children now left without parents.
“We are peaceful people, we love our families and our neighbors,” said Nazir Cheema, a retired engineer. “We love this country and its freedoms.”
Then he paused.
“Those terrorists in France who kill, who have caused so much pain and destruction, do not believe in freedom. They are not Muslims. They are not us. They are killers.”