Muslim leaders on Friday denounced the seven men arrested in Florida as members of a religious cult and implored the media not to refer to them as Muslims.
"The case of this bizarre, cultist group is evidence that the phenomenon of terrorism is not monolithic," said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "They have broken the laws of this country as well as the laws of the religion of Islam. As such, they are to be condemned."
Accounts of the group's behavior suggest their religious practice may have been a strange hybrid.
According to the indictment that accuses the men of plotting to attack the Sears Tower and other buildings, they wanted to organize "an Islamic army" to wage "jihad" in the United States and swore an oath of allegiance to Al Qaeda.
Relatives have told reporters the defendants are deeply religious people who took classes in Islam but also studied the Bible. One cousin told CNN: "The warehouse is the temple where they all go and pray and meditate."
True Muslims revere the Koran as sacred Scripture and worship in mosques, Rehab said. The media may be reluctant to say the individuals are not Muslim because the media might be seen as "watering down the fight against terrorism," Rehab said.
"That should not be the case," he said. "We should step up and fight these individuals without having to pull Islam as a religion, and Muslims as a people, [into] the struggle."
Abdul Malik Mujahid, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, agreed that the descriptions of the group's faith did not sound like Islam.
"They were reading the Bible, not the Koran. They called their place of worship a temple instead of `mosque.' These are not things that Muslims do," said Mujahid. "So associating them with Islam and Muslims, I think, is not only factually wrong, but will continue to contribute to Islamophobia, which is a form of racism."
The idea of the group targeting the Sears Tower is ironic, Mujahid said, as the building was designed by Muslim architect Fazlur Khan.
Mujahid cautioned Chicago-area mosques to be vigilant, saying attacks and hate crimes often follow such reports. Notifications were sent to nearly 130 mosques to be on the lookout for suspicious activities.
"Muslims in America have not created this problem," he said. "The whole society must stand up and fight this together. We have to come together for the safety of us all."