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)

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