By Dana Inayah Cann, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
His mission was to follow in his forefatherâ€™s footsteps and become a scholar and religious leader.
What Imam Sayid Hassan Al-Qazwini didnâ€™t realize is that his goals in life would take him to the other side of the world, to America, and captivate the minds of people from all walks of life. Whether for political leaders or for Christians, Al-Qazwini has given a better understanding of Islam in hopes of defeating the widespread misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. Al-Qazwini was born in Karbala, Iraq, in 1964, during the time of the Baâ€™athist regime, which was gradually brainwashing the people of Iraq.
Al-Qazwiniâ€™s family, well known in Iraq and in the Muslim community for their scholarship, leadership and community service, were against the Baâ€™athist regime.
Al-Qazwiniâ€™s father Ayahtollah Sayid Mortadha Al-Qazwini was one of the religious scholars who not only spread the word of Islam to the people of Iraq, but also opened Islamic schools and other institutions.
Since Al-Qazwiniâ€™s father migrated to the United States in 1984, he has opened Islamic schools, mosques and other institutions in Los Angeles, California.
Because the Al-Qazwini family refused to side with Saddam Hussein and the Baâ€™athist regime, they fled Iraq and moved to Kuwait after Al-Qazwiniâ€™s grandfather, Ayatollah Sayid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Qazwini, was arrested and never heard from again. During his time in Kuwait, Al-Qazwini decided to fulfill his goal as a religious leader and scholar.
As the Al-Qazwini family migrated from Kuwait to Qum, Iran, to escape Husseinâ€™s hunger for more power in his regime, Al-Qazwini joined the Islamic Seminary in 1980 and graduated in 1992.
Towards the end of 1992, Al-Qazwini moved his family to the United States where he directed the Azzahra Islamic Center founded by his father in Los Angeles, California. He also taught several Islamic fiqh and other Islamic courses during his four-year stay.
A year into his migration to America, Al-Qazwini was invited to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan to speak during the upcoming holy month of Ramadhan.
Having a positive effect on the Muslim community in Dearborn, Al-Qazwini was invited to return a year later.
The Islamic Center, established in 1963, is the oldest Shiâ€™a mosque in the United States.
Wanting to reach out to the younger generations of American Muslims, Al-Qazwini felt that it would be best to speak their language: English. Committed to reach his goal, Al-Qazwini devoted himself and quickly learned English and began to successfully communicate with the youth and cater to their needs.
By 1997, Al-Qazwini moved his family to Dearborn after accepting the role of scholar and religious leader at the Islamic Center of America. A year into his position, Al-Qazwini founded the Young Muslims Association (YMA), which is affiliated with the Islamic Center. The goal of the organization is to educate, promote leadership and create a place where young Muslims can actively support Islam.
Since 9/11, Al-Qazwini has been one of the most influential American Shiâ€™a Muslim religious leaders. He has visited numerous churches, colleges and the White House. He has been invited by the State Department, the Defense Department and has conducted interviews on NPR, BBC, CNN, VOA, The Detroit News, The Detroit Free Press, and The New York Times, among others.
While speaking to the American public, political and religious leaders, Al-Qazwini discusses issues relating to Muslims and he also speaks out against those religious leaders who commence attacks on Islam and Prophet Muhammad (s).
When asked about the biggest hurdle facing American Muslims, Al-Qazwini believes that the major hurdle is misconceptions that non-Muslims have about Islam. Part of the problem is the American media.
â€No doubt, there is bias in the media,â€ said Al-Qazwini, describing how the media gives a negative view with images of car bombings, beheadings and the war in Iraq. â€œThe biased media here in this country is playing a major role in promoting and pushing these misconceptions in the minds of Americans.â€
Al-Qazwini blames CNN for having a show with Glenn Beck who spoke negatively about Muslims, along with Fox News and the Oâ€™Reilly Factor. He also blames religious leaders Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham for â€œonce in a while inciting hatred against Islam and Muslims in this country.â€
â€Weâ€™re dealing with, I would say, a ruthless enemy that is aimed at discrediting us, at labeling all Muslims as extreme Muslims,â€ Al-Qazwini said as he mentioned that there are also hundreds of ant-Islamic websites on the internet promoting hatred against Islam. â€œThey brand us all as extremists so they can coax this fear and paranoia in the minds of Americans so they do not get to know us.â€
Al-Qazwini said that the other part of the problem for the misconceptions that non-Muslims have about Islam is Muslims themselves.
â€We have not done enough to let others know us and learn more of our religion,â€ said Al-Qazwini. â€œOur job is to deliver the message of Islam, to show the example of what kind of people we are. We are a people of peace. Therefore, we need to emphasize the concept of peace.â€
Al-Qazwini went on to say â€œI can challenge any person by saying that Islam is the first divine and monotheistical religion that can publicly invite the Jews and Christians to have a dialogue. It is in the Qur`an where God says:
Say: Oh people of the book! Come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him, nor set up any human beings as lords beside God.
If they turn away, say â€œBear witness that we are submitters.â€
To spread the word, promote peace, and lessen the misconceptions of Islam, Al-Qazwini says that Muslims should reach out to non-Muslims who want to know about Islam. The mosques are always open for all to attend to seek education about Islam, not motivated conversion. Al-Qazwini says that it is up to Allah to convert people.
â€If people donâ€™t want to go to the mosque, we can go to them,â€ said Al-Qazwini. â€œIn classrooms, with colleagues, or at peopleâ€™s homes,â€ Muslims can teach those who want to understand Islam.
When asked if the younger generation is prepared to become religious Islamic leaders in the future, Al-Qazwini doesnâ€™t think so.
Al-Qazwini takes part of the blame with other Islamic centers that â€œhave not done enough in preparing the new generation.â€
Al-Qazwini says that if the younger generation is convinced to go to the Middle East, study Islam and come back to America, people will be able to relate to them better because they were born in the same place and speaking the same language. He is willing to work for a sponsor to help a young Muslim to go to the Middle East to study Islam.
â€We need to have more English-speaking imams who not only speak the language, but they understand it,â€ said Al-Qazwini. â€œAnd, they can educate in a more adequate way with the American society.â€