#ChattanoogaStrong: How Faith Influences Life

#ChattanoogaStrong: How Faith Influences Life

Chattanooga Strong: Pray for Chattanooga

by Dillon Burroughs

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” –Romans 12:21

The tragic murder of four U.S. Marines and the shooting of a police officer on July 16 at two military facilities made Chattanooga, “A great city with a broken heart,” according to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. The suspect, 24-year old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was also reported as deceased. Both the city and nation now look for answers regarding the “why” behind this act of violence.

FBI officials report it is “far too early to suggest a motive,” yet some information suggests the source of the suspect’s hatred. A Kuwaiti-born young man raised in the United States, Abdulazeez graduated from Chattanooga-area Red Bank High School, later receiving a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga in 2012 that included an internship with TVA, the Tennessee Valley Authority.

News reports of local friends and contacts reveal that his family had not attended the local mosque in some time, yet Abdulazeez had begun showing up at prayers and services in the past two or three months. His recent pictures also sported a newly grown beard, another sign of growing devotion to his childhood Islamic upbringing.1

A check of his previous history shows only one arrest, in April of this year, for driving under the influence. He was later released on bond. Abdulazeez had also recently trained in mixed martial arts.2

Of great importance, however, is the discovery of the suspect’s recently created blog. It includes only two posts, both related to his Muslim faith. Both posts were dated July 13, only three days prior to the Chattanooga shootings. The title of the most recent post, “Understanding Islam: The Story of Three Blind Men,” focuses on the classic idea of three blind men each touching different parts of an elephant and giving three different descriptions of their experience.

The post then relates this account to Islam, stating:

We often talk about the Sahaba (RA) and their Ibada. We talk about their worshiping at night, making thikr, reading quran, fasting, sala. But did you ever notice that in one certain period towards the end of the lives of the Sahaba (RA), almost every one of the Sahaba (RA) was a political leader or an army general? Every one of them fought Jihad for the sake of Allah. Every one of them had to make sacrifices in their lives and some even left all their wealth to make hijrah to Medina (emphasis added).3

This religious historical account is both accurate and insightful up to this point. However, it is the conclusion Abdulazeez makes that may provide some light into the thoughts he considered just three days before the end of his life. He writes:

We ask Allah to make us follow their path. To give us a complete understanding of the message of Islam, and the strength the live by this knowledge, and to know what role we need to play to establish Islam in the world (emphasis added).4

Abdulazeez certainly expressed a desire to live as a devout Muslim in the tradition of those who “fought Jihad for the sake of Allah.” His encouragement was to seek, “…what role we need to play to establish Islam in the world.” His violent application of these desires has resulted in actions that have forever affected the lives of individuals, families, a community, and nation.

His first post, published on the same day, offers a more pointed source for Abdulazeez’s beliefs. As with both posts, they begin with the often-quoted Muslim phrase, “In the Name of Allah (SWT), the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,” in both Arabic and English. After sharing a narrative entitled “A Prison Called Dunya,” he quotes from both the Qur’an (Islam’s holy book) and Hadith (authoritative commentary on the Qur’an and Muslim teachings).

In the post’s conclusion, Abdulazeez urges, “If you make the intention to follow allahs way 100 % and put your desires to the side, allah will guide you to what is right.”5 Apparently, he concluded “Allah’s way” included attacks on military facilities in his hometown and considered it to be “what is right” in the eyes of Allah.

The vast majority of American Muslims do not share Adbulazeez’s conclusion that “Allah’s way” includes violence against innocent Americans. In fact, his own local mosque cancelled its Friday meeting in respect of those who lost their lives. Its representatives have spoken against this violence, as is only appropriate. However, it cannot be avoided or denied that his views and actions were influenced to some degree by the teachings of Islam found in the Qur’an and Hadith.

Mainstream news sources may claim other influences, and much investigation still remains. New information could reveal additional factors. Yet all who have been impacted can learn from this tragedy. Faith influences all of life. In the case of Abdulazeez, his understanding of faith led to acts of violence and his own death.

In contrast, the worldview of biblical Christianity reveals a God who has created each person in His image with love and purpose for our lives. May we come to know this view of God and faithfully share this hope with those who have yet to experience it.


  1. See http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/07/17/reports-chattanooga-gunman-was-kuwaiti-born-but-spent-formative-years-in-us/.
  2. Ibid.
  3. See https://myabdulazeez.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/5/.
  4. Ibid.
  5. See https://myabdulazeez.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/a-prison-called-dunya/.