POLL: Was Thursday's shooting an act of terrorism?
For more than 40 years — despite the terror of 9/11 and the mass shooting at Fort Hood and bombing of the Boston Marathon — Muslims in Chattanooga have lived at peace with their neighbors.
There was no hate mail or death threats, no picketing or bullying.
The worst Bassam Issa can remember is a stolen lawn mower.
"They are Americans. This is their country, and this is their city," said Issa, who is president of the Islamic Center of Greater Chattanooga.
While other cities, even as close as Murfreesboro, Tenn., were fighting the erection of mosques and warning of radical Islam, Issa said Chattanooga was quiet. When their new mosque was built three years ago, photos and plans were featured in an interfaith newsletter.
They picked a spot near the mall that wasn't near residential neighborhoods, a place they hoped would say: We are out here in the open. We have nothing to hide. Don't be afraid.
But a young man they once thought they knew has now threatened all that. Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez's own father called Issa to tell him he knew that his son had put the Muslim community in great jeopardy.
"He said he was very sorry for what his son did," said Issa, who said Youssuf Saed Abdulazeez was crying and very distraught when the two spoke. "He knows that his son has done so much harm to Chattanooga and to those families This boy has destroyed his family forever."
So far, it's hard to tell how Chattanoogans will respond to the Muslim community now that four Marines and a Navy officer are dead and two more were wounded at the hands of a local Muslim. There are small signs of anger. A woman stood on the Walnut Street bridge with a sign that said: "Ship out Arabs." A few people stood outside of the mosque Friday night with a sign that said: "This religion and this building offends me."
On social media there is a lot of anger already bubbling up about efforts to question Abdulazeez's link to terrorism.
"I just can't agree that the best we can do is pray for Chattanooga," wrote Hamilton County Public Defender Steve Smith on his Facebook page. "I think the best we can do is ascertain who our enemies are, whether foreign or domestic, and then kill them. That is what CPD did. What will Barack Hussein Obama do?"
Louisiana Gov. and GOP presidential candidate Bobby Jindal declared that the Chattanooga shooting "underscores the grave reality of the threat posed to us by radical Islamic terrorism."
In some parts of the country, armed civilians are standing in front of military recruitment offices.
But there are even more signs that the community can and will move forward together.
On Friday night, nearly 1,000 people crowded into Olivet Baptist Church downtown, and many local Muslims were there, some in traditional head scarves. They didn't know the words to the Christian songs being sung from the pulpit, but, still, some tried to sing along. Others sat still, their faces somber.
Pastors asked the group not to let what happened Thursday divide the community. Dr. Mohsin Ali, a member of the Islamic center, spoke near the end.
"I will say just a few words about the murderer," Ali said. "How cowardly and cruelly he acted. How many victims he struck. He shattered the peace in our city, he frightened our children and destroyed the lives of his whole family."
When he was finished, every Muslim in the room stood up. The crowd clapped and cheered.
Friday was the last day of Ramadan. Hundreds of local Muslims had planned to have inflatables for the children, a buffet of desserts and food. They had been fasting for almost a month, and, traditionally it was a time to celebrate, to be together, to laugh.
"In our religion it is the day that you are happy that you have finished the duty to Allah," said Issa. "But when we talked people said, 'We don't want to do this. It is not in us right now. We are so sad.'"
On Saturday afternoon in Hixson, the home of Abdulazeez's family appeared empty. No one answered the door. Neighbors said they had not seen or heard from members of the family since law enforcement surrounded the home Thursday and escorted two women away.
Still, early Saturday morning, neighbors gathered to weed-eat around Abdulazeez's driveway, cut the grass and water the lilies, dahlias and tomato plants so that they could survive the sweltering Saturday heat.
"We'll watch over the house, because they're our neighbors," said Charlie Jones. "We want to show them they are still our neighbors. And they are. If it was one of our children that did that — how would you feel? It would be devastating."
Much is still unknown about what motivated the mass shooting, yet Abdulazeez's faith did seem to play some role in what happened Thursday morning.
Issa said Abdulazeez hadn't been to mosque in months and hadn't attended prayer for Ramadan. Locally, Issa said the mosque taught peace, but he said he doesn't know what Abdulazeez learned when he traveled to the Middle East in recent years and believes the trips changed him.
Other friends have said they met a changed man when he returned from Jordan. The once clean-shaved boy grew a beard. He was charged with a DUI in April and was found with white powder on his nose. In a statement issued by his family late Saturday night they said their son had suffered from depression for many years.
"The person who committed this horrible crime was not the son we knew and loved," the statement read.
Reuters also reported that hours before the Chattanooga gunman attacked two military installations, he texted a friend a link to an Islamic verse that included the line: "Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of mine, then I have declared war against him."
"He expressed that he was upset about (the Middle East). But I can't imagine it drove him to this," said the friend who received the text message, according to Reuters.
A blog that the SITE Intelligence Group said was penned by Abdulazeez muses upon the role of Sahaba, the companions of the prophet Muhammad, who he said all "fought Jihad for the sake of Allah."
"Every one of them had to make sacrifices in their lives," the blog's author wrote.
The group did not reveal how it was able to link the blog to Abdulazeez, but confirmed to the Times Free Press that it believed the blog was genuine.
In another post on the same blog, he wrote that life is "short and bitter." In his yearbook from high school he quipped "My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?"
But if he had changed his ideology, he wasn't open about it. He had not kept up with friends and had distanced himself, said Issa. One friend, who asked that his name be kept private for his family's protection, said he fasted and prayed with Abdulazeez this month and didn't notice any red flags.
His family seems to have had secrets as well. Issa said he didn't consider Abdulazeez's father, Youssuf, a fundamentalist, and was surprised to see his divorce papers referenced his desire for multiple wives and that he had once been on the terrorist watch list. Rasmia Ibrahim Abdulazeez accused her husband of repeatedly beating her in the presence of their five children and of sexually abusing her.
"He was a quiet everyday person," Issa said of Abdulazeez's father. "He was just like everyone else. He came to pray and went home."
And Abdulazeez's sister told the Times Free Press five years ago that she felt tension between her faith and her community. Yasmeen said she wasn't allowed to play in a volleyball tournament because of her head scarf. She dropped a class at UTC when she was told that her grade would be lowered for missing a class because of a religious holiday, she said.
"I'm not afraid to go straight toward them and ask them, 'Do you really know what Islam is?'" a 17-year-old Yasmeen Abdulazeez said in 2010. "There's this misconception that Islam is a violent religion. Muslims are actually peaceful."
Staff writers Ben Benton and Kate Belz contributed to this story.
Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick Smith at jsmith@times freepress.com or 423-757-6659.