|Imam Qazwini and then President George W Bush|
|The Islamic Center of America|
Imam Hassan Qazwini and his divisive and controversial legacy at the Islamic Center of America:
A mixed sect mosque in Qazwini’s horizon?
You have to admire the former imam of the Islamic Center of America (ICA). He is savvy, speaks English well and has a knack for hobnobbing with politicians. He has good people skills. During his tenure at the ICA he had been particularly popular with the youth and the women in the community Women are the unsung heroes of houses of worship in the US. Many women felt that Imam Qazwini appreciated their contributions to the ICA.
On September 22, 2015 Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press wrote an article on Imam Hassan al Qazwini based on an interview at the imam’s Canton home. The imam told him that he wants to start his own mosque. Warikoo wrote:
‘While the Islamic Center’s membership was primarily Lebanese Shia, the new center is “not going to be ethnically based, nor sectarian based,” Al-Qazwini added. “It’s going to be appealing to all Muslims, Sunni and Shia ... and all Muslims as far as their ethnicities and races.”’
In the interview, Qazwini called himself a “moderate Muslim.”
Qazwini painted himself as a moderate Muslim, a Muslim that embraces Sunnis and Shiites, an imam who wants a mosque that welcomes Sunnis and Shiites of all backgrounds. This sounds great for people who dislike the Sunni-Shiite differentiation which they perceive as division and conflict. But what was Qazwini’s legacy at the ICA? Was he a uniter of Sunnis and Shiites? The clear answer is a definite no.
Qazwini questions the validity of Sunni-Shiite mixed marriages
A key example is what he did a few years ago during the Ashoura commemoration held at the ICA. Ashoura is the Shiite annual commemoration of the martyrdom of imam Hussein in the battle of Karbala in modern day Iraq. It is an emotionally charged occasion. In one of his sermons in Ashoura an emotional Qazwini spoke against Sunni-Shiite mixed marriages and questioned the validity of these marriages. This caused an uproar in the congregation and upset the board. There are many Sunni-Shiite mixed marriages in the world and that includes Dearborn. Some of those in attendance were Sunnis, Shiites married to Sunnis or the children of mixed marriages. They were not happy with this at all.
Imam Mardini assures Muslims: Mixed marriages are valid
The Forum and Link paper of Detroit reacted to the scandal by interviewing the Sunni imam Mardini asking him about the validity of Sunni- Shiites marriages. Mardini affirmed that such marriages are valid.
Osama Siblani criticizes Qazwini
The Arab American News paper wrote an Arabic language editorial criticizing Qazwini for speaking on such a sensitive matter during the very emotional special occasion of Ashoura. The Shiite Lebanese Osama Siblani, himself married to a Sunni, reminded Qazwini that the land of the ICA was donated by none other than Nasser of Egypt, a Sunni Muslim himself.
ICA Board intervention: Muslim unity first
The board of the ICA was unhappy with Qazwini and acted decisively. The board informed the imam that his behavior is unacceptable. The board of the ICA constitutes some of the most successful and most respected individuals not only in the Shiite- American community of Detroit but in the Arab and Muslim American community nationwide. People like the highly respected and successful businessman Ned Fawaz have a national and international reputation for integrity and leadership. The board engaged in damage control. The Sunni Lebanese Imam Mardini was invited to speak during one of the Ashoura evening programs to emphasize the brotherhood of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a tenet that the board members believed was part of their vision for the center.
Qazwini’s legacy: A divisive and controversial tenure at ICA
That Ashoura incident was not the only mistake made by Qazwini during his tenure. Next time Warikoo does an interview with the “moderate Muslim” Qazwini we hope he asks him about his controversial and divisive tenure and that Ashoura episode in particular.