A prominent Illinois imam said young American Muslims who are attracted to radical groups might be motivated by a mentality of "two-fold inferiority."
Imam Rizwan Ali of the Islamic Center of Naperville said it is a mentality found in a variety of immigrant families.
"Immigrants from different backgrounds have a concept of something called two-fold inferiority. They are not assimilated with their current host country and their (former) country," the imam said.
"Some of the people who fall into these radical groups, they try to promote this distinction: you have to choose whether to be a Muslim or an American, that you can't be both. The perpetuation of this mentality is driving people to these groups," Ali added.
The imam said the vast majority of American Muslims believe "you can be a Muslim American. Those terms not contradictory. We saw a great example of that in Muhammad Ali."
The imam's own experience tracks the life story of many American Muslims. His parents emigrated from India more than 40 years ago. He was born and raised in the Chicago suburb of Glen Ellyn. He earned his undergraduate degree at Benedictine University and a masters degree at St. Xavier University, both Catholic institutions. He completed his Islamic studies in Cairo.
He said, like many Muslims in the U.S., he grew up thinking of himself as an American first. "Something my parents tried to instill me is that 'we came from India, but you are American,'" the imam said. "When we ask our kids what is their favorite food, you might expect them to say biryani. They say pizza, hamburgers."
Ali said the Orlando shooter had little understanding of Islam. "On multiple levels he violated Islamic norms, Islamic laws and traditions. If anyone tries to say this he did this in name of Islam, I would have question their understanding of the faith."
Nor does ISIS represent the faith, he said. "The teachings of practices of ISIS conflict with the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the Koran. Mass killings whether it's killing non- combatants, men, women or children, they kill people indiscriminately."
Ali noted that the majority of ISIS's victims have been fellow Muslims.
"It's an important thing on the part of Muslims as well as non-Muslims to come together to try to understand what the faith really teaches," he said.
He said Muslims who become radicalized are often isolated from mosques, and that most practicing Muslims worldwide share the concern that "ISIS is hijacking Islam."
The Orlando shooter's target was a nightclub frequented mainly by members of the LGBT community. In a doctrine not dissimilar to what many Christian denominations and Orthodox Judaism teaches, Islam sanctions sexual relations only within the bounds of marriage and between a man and a woman.
"We can disagree with people, but to hate and bully and, God forbid, attack them, this is completely against Islam and we need to make that known to people," Ali said.
The imam said gays are welcome to worship at his mosque. "We never stop anybody at the door and ask, 'do you drink alcohol do you have a boyfriend, girlfriend, engage in adultery?'" He said he would say to a gay or transgender person who showed up, "Are you here to pray? If you want to pray, we will pray together."