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. www.forumandlink.com