ISIS Recruiters Run Up Against Virginia Imam Working to Counter Their Message

PHOTO: Imam Mohamed MagidPlayCarolyn Kaster/AP Photo
WATCH Countering ISIS Recruiting Tactics

It was one of the top issues raised at last week’s White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism: How can communities curb the advanced recruiting tactics pushed by ISIS and other radical Islamist groups?

But just a couple dozen miles away in a northern Virginia mosque, one Muslim leader is already fighting that battle.

“I'm not going to be able to save every kid, but I have a responsibility to save kids here as much as I can in this mosque,” Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS, said. “We teach them here in this mosque, being a Muslim it means to believe in all aspects of life of being a good citizen and being a good individual.”

Magid is the chief imam, or spiritual leader, at ADAMS and former president of the Islamic Society of North America.

Magid has made efforts to integrate young Muslims into their community at a time where ISIS militants continue to ramp up their recruiting efforts online, he told ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz in an interview.

“ISIS is very savvy in the Internet,” Magid said. “They see the traffic, who's coming to watch and so forth and during that time that’s where they catch the young person when he shows curiosity.”

U.S. officials estimate more than 20,000 foreign fighters have flocked to Iraq and Syria to fight in radical groups, with more than 150 Americans among them.

“They start offering [recruits] their narrative that ‘the Muslim world is being humiliated and look at all the suffering. Come and we'll give you a sense of purpose, come join us, we'll make you a great hero,’” Magid said. “The nature of a cult is justification.”

While most of his work has centered around preventative measures with youth, from civic engagement at the center to sports clubs, Magid said he recently changed one young man’s mind who had already been contacted by ISIS.

Magid said he is now confident the young man will never join the group.

“He came to realize this is not what the prophet teaches, and now he resents them, he wants them to be defeated,” Magid said. “Now that kind of young person could be the person to deradicalize and change the mind of other young people.”

The biggest obstacle for young Muslims, Magid said, is isolation.

“They isolate the person from his family: ‘Your parents are not good Muslims, don’t listen to them, your local Imam is not a good man,’ and then they become a cult where they are completely isolated from any opportunities, any possibilities to counter the narrative,” Magid said.

It’s one reason he started a workshop for parents centered around promoting Internet safety.

“We need the parents to be savvy and understanding their place in the virtual space,” Magid said. “The best line of defense in this whole issue is parents, family. Complete awareness about your children, for instance, what they're doing, who they are, friends they have in the virtual community, that’s very important.”

Abdullah Baig, who is an 18-year-old member of ADAMS, said young people in the Sterling, Virginia, mosque talk about compassion, loving one another and being kind to one’s parents as being central tenants of Islam.

“Our prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, he warned us against these extremisms,” Baig said. “Good Muslim Islamic practices are defined as just being a good person overall, being a person of good character and joining what is right and forbidding what is evil.”

Countering ISIS’ messaging in its early stages is essential, because he said there is a clear line where is becomes “a law enforcement obligation,” Magid said.

“If a person about to commit a crime, it’s the responsibility of our community, any community on the United States, is to report it,” Magid said. “There are some people who want to be conservative in practicing Islam. But none of us should think that violent extremism is justified.”