Thursday, January 29, 2015

Imam Elahi is the Voice of Wisdom and Compassion on the ICA-Qazwini Saga

Imam Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom

Islamic House of Wisdom of Dearborn Heights, MI

The dispute between imam Qazwini and the Islamic Center of America's board has divided the members, friends and supporters of the Islamic Center of America (ICA). Harsh, sometimes nasty and almost always unholy language has been used to comment on the dispute. The most troubling aspect of the Islamic Center of America saga is some of the tactics used and the vulgar language used by some of the supporters of imam Qazwini. Qazwini himself inflamed the situation further when he used inflammatory rhetoric- referring to his opponents as cancer, ISIS and Yazeed. 
Recently imam Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom spoke words of peace, compassion and wisdom. using language of reconciliation and genuine concern in a posting on the Dearborn Area Community Members Facebook page. That Facebook page, whose administrator is Dearborn attorney Majid Moghnieh, had seen many exchanges of harsh and nasty rhetoric between supporters and opponents of imam Qazwini. Some of the comments make you wonder how can such language be used when the issue is an imam and an Islamic center. 

Imam Elahi, troubled by the divisiveness, posted the following:

وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ رِ‌يحُكُمْ وَاصْبِرُ‌وا إِنَّ اللَّـهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِ‌ينَ
Do not quarrel with each other lest you fail or lose honor. Exercise patience; God is with those who have patience. The Holy Quran 8/46
My beloved brothers and sisters,
Please read and reflect on the above verse! I say this with a heart full of wound and sadness. It is not about imam Qazwini, IC board, and our community anymore! The forces of Islamophobia who use any opportunity to damage the image of our faith are making so many comments irrelevant to this subject, yet so harmful to our entire identity as Arab and Muslim community. Let’s stop fueling this devastating fire which would eventually burn both sides of this crisis. Let’s be part of a solution; let’s work for some reconciliation between Sayyed Qazwini and certain board members of IC. Even if reconciliation was impossible, let’s find a peaceful end.
Please don’t post the stuff that creates more division and animosity among our community. Our faith is about respect for human dignity, rights and responsibility. Only God is perfect, let Him be our God not our ego and arrogance. Let’s speak with the language of love, forgiveness and appreciation.
Let’s end this war of words that has no victory for anyone and show more humility for the sake of healing and harmony among our brothers and sisters.
I already sent messages to the Sayyed and the Center expressing the willingness of the humble House of Wisdom to help reconciliation or peaceful end to this sad situation. We need everyone prayer and help in this direction!
وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّـهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّ‌قُوا
Hold fast, all together, to God’s cord, and do not be divided ( Quran 3-103)
إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْ‌حَمُونَ
The faithful are indeed brothers. Therefore, make peace between your brothers and be wary of God, so that you may receive [His] mercy.( the Quran 49-10)
Your humble servant
Mohammad Ali Elahi

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Understanding the Dispute at the Islamic Center of America: Excerpts from Liyakat Nathani Takim's book Shi'ism in America

Islamic Center of America

Understanding the Dispute at The Islamic Center of America: Helpful Excerpts from Liyakat Nathani Takim's book Shi'ism in America

The Islamic Center of America is in the news due to the dispute between the board and its imam Hassan Qazwini.

There is nothing exceptional or suis generis in the ongoing dispute. Issues of ethnicity, finances, “mosque politics” all help understand the dispute.

One academic work that helps one understand the dispute is Liyakat Nathani Takim's book Shi'ism in America. Below are excerpts from his book:

  Page 55:
Most Shi’i immigrants try to impose the homeland culture in America by determining how the mosques are run, or what is an acceptable dress code, language, and behavior. Newer immigrants also tend to have their own predispositions on issues such as gender integration, political activism in a non-Muslim country, engagement with different ethnic groups, interfaith dialogue, joint activity with Sunnis, and the like. In many cases, Shi’i immigrants tend to emphasize the public expression of their religious beliefs and practices and are thus less likely to assimilate.

Immigrants also challenge the American expression of Islam, precipitating a crisis and even splits within certain mosques. They bring with them a more intense form of Shi’ism, one whose discourse is frequently more aggressive and polemic, reasserting thereby the traditional demarcating lines between Shi’ism and Sunnism. Thus, immigration has enhanced tensions between the Sunnis and Shi’is who come from a different culture. As they try to impose a homogenized, monolithic Shi’ism in America, immigrant Shi’ism is also challenged by the youth in the community. According to Najjah Bazzy, a prominent member of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, the Iraqis brought with them an intense form of Shi’ism and expression of devotion to the family of the Prophet and have impacted the Lebanese community who relinquished some of their religious laxity and became more strict. More specifically, she notes, the Iraqis carried to the States the intensity of ‘Ashura’. The Lebanese were too lax; the Iraqis, on the other hand, were too stringent, leading to much altercation between the two groups. Due to such disparities, there has been considerable resistance to the Iraqi presence in some Lebanese centers in Dearborn.

Page 58:
In Dearborn, the Islamic Center of America is frequented primarily by the Lebanese. Within a few miles lies the Kerbala Center, which was established in 1995 to cater especially to the Iraqis. In my discussions with them, a few members of the Lebanese community in Dearborn restated the view that the relationship with the Iraqis in Dearborn was not very strong; in fact, there was some resistance to the Iraqi presence at the Islamic Center of America. Shaykh Hisham Husainy of the Kerbala Center in Dearborn admitted that a cultural chasm existed between the Lebanese and Iraqi Shi’is. The former, he observed, are more lax and do not observe a rigid interpretation of Islam. According to him, only a few Lebanese frequent the Kerbala Center.

Page 61:

The ethnic division dissipates in communities where Shi’is of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together to share limited resources and form multiethnic centers. In communities like Cleveland, Indianapolis, Seattle, Nashville, Phoenix, and Austin, the ethnic divide is almost nonexistent as different ethnic Shi’i groups coalesce under the common banner of the prophet and his progeny. Others may even hold joint religious programs with local Sunni communities. However, even in such multiethnic centers, there is much tension as different groups try to impose their peculiar understanding and articulation of Shi’ism. Occasionally there are disputes regarding which speakers to invite, what kind of food to serve, whether men and women should be seated in the same hall, whether and how to perform acts of flagellations, and the like. I observed much tension in one center engendered by a debate as to whether tabarri’ (which was understood by some to refer to the explicit cursing of the enemies of the ahl al-bayt), was to be undertaken during the programs or not. Some clearly felt that the center should replicate the old tradition of cursing the enemies of the family of the prophet whereas other members favored accentuating the more positive tawalli (stressing the virtues and following the examples of the prophet and his family)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Interview with Ali. S. Wehbi, Lebanese Extreme Runner, Adventurer:

Ali Wehbi at the North Pole

Ali Wehbi at Tanzania's Uhuru Peak

Interview with Ali. S. Wehbi, Extreme Runner, Adventurer:
Overcoming challenges, promoting social causes*

On my last visit to Lebanon I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Ali S. Wehbi an Extreme Runner, Adventurer. Lebanonization is synonymous with communal conflict and the breakdown of the state. The news from Lebanon is almost always depressing due to one conflict or another.  News coverage is biased to the negative, to bad news. But there is also good news- news that inspire, that give hope and provide a good example for all of us. Such a news story is Ali Wehbi’s story. Ali’s story is a great inspiration.  When his mother died of cancer in 2005, Ali felt helpless. There was nothing that could be done medically to save the life of the person whom he loved most in the whole world. To cope with this loss, he decided to challenge himself and help others. Ali was always an athlete. He jogged and played basketball. The trauma of the loss pushed him to embrace extreme running, for a cause. He decided to push himself to overcome most challenging runs while helping causes in Lebanon. He ran for the Brave Heart fund (by running the Lebanese coast, from the Northern border to the Southern, 240km in 29h35m), ran at the north pole for the Red Cross (The Red Cross Flag from the North Pole to the ICRC), climbed the Kilimanjaro summit, Tanzania, in the memory of Talal Kassem, Roads for Life and helped raise funds and awareness about autism in Lebanon (by running 12 marathons in 12 days around Lebanon). Ali continues to challenge himself. In April 2015 he is planning to run 1000km (Beirut - Beirut) around Lebanon to help the fundraising to create a blood bank for the Lebanese Red Cross. In 2016  he is planning to run from Lebanon to Mecca (50 Days, 50 Marathons Throughout LEBANON, SYRIA, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan & KINGDOM OF SAUDI ARABIA  ) to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the passing away of his mother and to help fund raising to support 10 children with cancer for 1 year. He is working on a book project and continues to give motivational speech engagements.

The following are excerpts from this interview. 

 Forum &Link: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Tell me a little about your background.

Wehbi: I am an ordinary Lebanese man who took up a challenge to help myself and help others. I was born in Lebanon and spent a number of years living in France. I have a degree in business and computers from France and work as an ICT consultant. I am happily married with two children.

F & L: Are you a professional Extreme Runner, Adventurer?

Wehbi: I am not a professional runner. Professional runners all they do is run and they have a big budget and team. I am semi professional- I still have a day job as a consultant, but I am keen on turning pro to give more and better focus for my efforts and the causes I promote.

F &L: What got you into extreme running; this is not the easiest activity to undertake, especially in a place like Lebanon?

Wehbi: The death of my mother from cancer was traumatic. It was sudden. I wanted an outlet for the intense feelings of loss and pain. I took on running. There are a lot of people facing health difficulties and many organizations helping them. I run for personal reasons and for social reasons. I help give social causes media coverage and thus help their funding.  I run for myself and for others.

F &L: You told me you wake up early in the morning to run in all kinds of weather. What gives you the energy the motivation? What challenges do you face?

Wehbi: I am driven and focused. Running in Lebanon is harder than in other countries. In Lebanon there is no infrastructure to have a proper training or park. I run on the roads and for safety reasons very early in the morning.  I start very early sometimes as early as 3 a.m., especially when I have a long run (5 to 8hrs).  Every Saturday I run Saida - Beirut, so I have to be up very early. Many days the weather is awful and I would rather sleep. But I get up, get dressed and hit the road. I have discipline and determination.

F & L: How do you balance extreme running, consulting and being a father and a husband?

Wehbi: Extreme running and the commitment of time it require a big part of my time. I have no social life and I wish I could spend more time with my friends and family whom I dearly love. I run very early and spend afternoons with my kids. But sometime I have fitness training in the afternoon at the 180 degrees Gym & Spa a great place to exercise and their support I appreciate much. Many times I have a 2nd run end in the afternoon so I spend the early evening with them. As for work most of the time I do my work in the morning. My wife is a great source of sup and encouragement.  My wife is in the medical field so she take care of all my nutrition and medical issues. She is part of what I do, and all the time support me. Her support and dedication is priceless and she is a big part of my life and what I do.

F &L: Are your children athletes? Are they going to be like you?

Wehbi: Yes, they play basketball, tennis and they are in my support team during the big run and help in the support association. About going to be like me as to extreme running, I don’t know but I know they already want to be with the Red Cross Youth once they are 18.  They play sports and are socially conscious- I am happy with that.

F & L: Tell me about your extreme running. What were the most challenging experiences?

Wehbi: Well all of them were challenging. I ran in the desert with +50 Celsius temperature and in -50 C (Antarctica and North Pole), but I can tell the hardest one maybe the North Pole. For the North Pole run I had to train inside a freezer of a big supermarket in Beirut to get used to running in the extreme cold weather of the North Pole. Imagine I was running on a treadmill in a freezer surrounded by frozen food and meat.   Running Lebanon last year was a hard task too. I had to run every day and give presentations and motivation speeches at schools and universities in the afternoon so I had no rest during the 12- day run.

F &L: Do you get any financial support from any organization or individuals?

Wehbi: BankMed is my main sponsor. Alfa, one of the two operating GSM networks in Lebanon, is supporting me in my Lebanon Run also I have a sports partner with the 180 degrees Gym & Spa Lebanon. The Red Cross sends a team of their volunteers to accompany me in the run. The Lebanese government, the Interior ministry, handles security. They are all wonderful and I am grateful to all of them.

F &L: What awards have you received?

Wehbi: In 2007 I was awarded the Lebanese Order of Merit by President Emil Lahoud, the President of the Republic of Lebanon. In 2012 I was awarded the National Order of the Cedar, Knight Grade by President Michel Suleiman the President of the Republic of Lebanon.  I was given an award by the Red Cross as well.

F &L: What are your plans?

Wehbi: #Road2MACCA is one of my biggest dreams I am working on, as well I want to write a book about endurance, hope and resilience. A book about challenging ourselves to achieve our potential, about how it’s hard, but not impossible, to be an athlete and live in a country like Lebanon, where I had to run under bomb during the 2006 war, and finally about motivation and determination.

F &L: You have an inspiring story. Would you accept an invitation to speak before Lebanese or Arab communities in the United States?

Wehbi: I would welcome this opportunity. I like to speak to the youth. I think the problem we have with the youth today is that they are fixated on indoor electronic gadgets. They need to go out more. Another issue is that personal setbacks can trigger withdrawal or even depression in some people. I say we should channel energy positively. I enjoy speaking before audiences about my story. I want to inspire the youth to channel frustrations and setbacks into positive energy.

F &L: Have you ever visited the US?

Wehbi: Yes, twos time before. But I would love to visit again. If I get an invitation I would definitely come.                                                                                        

F &L: Any final words?

Wehbi: I want to thank my sponsors BankMed, Alfa and 180 degrees Gym & Spa. I want to thank the Red Cross for ensuring my health and for Lebanese Internal Security Forces for providing me with security while running. I want to thank the organizations that provided me the opportunity to help them get exposure and funds for their worthy causes.  Special thanks to the Forum and Link and its publisher Dr. Asad Dandashli for this opportunity. 

* Interview will appear in the Forum and Link on 1/29/2015. www.forumandlinkcom

The following sources provide more information on Ali Wehbi:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Islamic Center of America (ICA) and Imam Qazwini

Imam Qazwini with President George W Bush

Islamic Center of America

Issues beyond the person of the imam and the individual board members
The core issues are the center’s identity and mission*

The Islamic Center of America (ICA) is in the news. Rumors have been floating around the ICA and its imam for a number of years now. The matter has been written about, in the Arab- American media, on and off over the years but then the issue dies to be resurrected. The relationship between the board and the imam is the issue on the surface but deep down there are bigger issues at the heart of the ongoing dispute.

The ICA issue, Divaa Afaf Ahmad and social media

The ICA controversy only recently became hot news thanks to social media, mainly Facebook, and Lebanese American journalist Divaa Afaf Ahmad who does not fear controversy. The ethnic media and the mainstream media largely stayed away from the issue that has been part of the Dearborn rumor mill for years with allegations percolating for years. Journalist Afaf Ahmad; who has a popular radio show on 102.3 and is not afraid of taboo subjects such as homosexuality in the Arab community, gambling and other issues; raised the ICA and Qazwini  issue on her show and on her popular Facebook page, “Divaa Afaf Ahmad.”  As a result of her daring to come near this issue she was accused of “yellow journalism” and became the subject of a nasty campaign of attacks by self-declared supporters of Qazwini. Instead of substantive responses to the questions she raised, questions that were based on allegations made by others in the community for years, Afaf got nasty ad hominem attacks.  A group of self- proclaimed supporters of Qazwini initiated a campaign asking advertisers to pull their advertising from her show and for the community to boycott the radio station FM 102.3. Qazwini himself did not mince words regarding those making the allegations when he told the Arab American News on December 25, 2014 that the letters making allegations against him have an “ISIS-like tone.”      

Qazwini’s three interviews
So far Qazwini has spoken about the controversy three times-twice with Sada al Watan/The American News on December 25, 2014 and on January 9, 2015 and once with the Free Press on January 24, 2015. There are contradictions between some of the statements.  While he told Sada Al Watan in January 9, 2015 that "[T]he overwhelming majority of board members are good, noble people and have the desire to improve the ICA, but that will not stop me from saying that some brothers in the administration lack the vision” he was quoted by Niraj Warikoo in the Free Press, based on Qazwini’s Friday sermon, saying that “the entire board has to be dissolved, with the exception of the founding fathers… The entire system has to be dissolved. The by-laws have to be dissolved." This is very interesting and is bigger than the allegations made by his detractors.

The ICA: The Mission and the Identity?
Based on Qazwini’s Friday sermon the conflict is about the very identity and the mission of the ICA.  Corporate governance rules are that the board has the ultimate authority for the institution. Qazwini wants to remold the ICA. While corporate governance rules say Qazwini would go and the board and the bylaws stay, Qazwini wants the board and the bylaws to go while he stays, handpicking those who will be on the board and under his direction drafting new bylaws. The questions to be asked are: 1. Who runs the ICA? 2. What is the mission of the ICA? 3. Whose center is it?

Framing the issue: “Vatican v. Village mosque” OR heavy politics v. community center?
The two biggest issues at the core of the matter are identity of the mosque and its mission. The way Qazwini put it in January 9, 2015, he wants the ICA of America to be the “Vatican of Muslims in the United States” while his opponents want it to be a “Lebanese village mosque.” The heart of the matter is that Qazwini has injected himself and the ICA into national and international politics, a reality that not many in the community are happy with. He was a strong supporter and an advocate of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. He wants the ICA to be involved in controversial political matters. Important, respectable and serious voices in the community, people who have donated hours of their valuable time and/or donated hundreds of thousands of their hard- earned money, people whom Qazwini slights as proponents of a “village mosque”, want the ICA to be an Islamic community center much less involved in politics and more local community focused.

Qazwini’s national background: Iraqi ab initio
The ethnicity factor is another big factor that Qazwini brought up.  Qazwini raised the claim that some on the board don’t like him because he is Iraqi. This is a strange claim.  Qazwini had his position for 18 years. He was Iraqi before he was hired, during these 18 years of leadership and still is. If the board had an issue with an Iraqi they would not have given him the job for 18 years- about 6,570 days.  This is how he was quoted by Warikoo in the Free Press based on the tape of the Friday sermon:  ‘"Remove this cancer," Qazwini said of board members attacking him "who are racist….”  But this is the same board that two weeks before the Friday sermon he described as a board whose “overwhelming majority” are “good, noble people.”

From religious group to ethnic group
There is an American saying that in America all religious groups become ethnic groups. A visitor to Michigan notices the presence of ethnic houses of worship. Dearborn Heights has a Ukrainian Catholic church and a Polish Catholic church. As to the Sunni Muslim community, de facto or de jure, the Dix mosque is Yemeni, the Islamic Center of Detroit is Palestinian and the American Muslim Center is Lebanese. These houses of worship do not only have a spiritual function, they have a cultural and communal function as well. It’s against religious values to close doors to individuals based on their ethnic background but there is nothing wrong with the mosque having an identity and a culture. Many Iraqis seem much happier going to the Kerbala center on Warren where they don’t have to explain themselves or their practices and traditions.
The issue at the ICA is bigger than the imam and the individual board members. It is a question of mission and identity. Issues of mission and identity cannot be dealt with by muddling through.
* Entry will appear in the Forum and Link of 01/29/2015. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

AHRC Director Imad Hamad advocates dialogue and engagement as keys to better community-police relations

American Human Rights Council (AHRC) Executive Director Imad Hamad advocates for dialogue and communication as the keys to developing trust and partnership between the police and policed communities.

Dialogue and communication have been critical to  building good relations between the Arab- American community and law enforcement in the Detroit area.

Below is the link to the Detroit News opinion Mr. Imad Hamad published in the Detroit News: