American Crescent: A Muslim Cleric on the Power of His Faith, the Struggle Against Prejudice, and the Future of Islam and America [Secure]
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by Hassan Qazwini
Description: In this inspiring narrative, one of this country's most important Muslim leaders reveals the story of his life and his faith, and why Islam is good for America. As the religious leader of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, Imam Hassan Qazwini serves the largest Muslim congregation in the United States. His dramatic journey to these shores began in 1971, when his father's anti-Baathist views forced his family to flee from Saddam's Iraq to Kuwait and then to war-torn Iran. Then, in 1992, with his father's blessing, he left for the United States, a place where young Muslims were seeking spiritual guidance and where his children could grow up in the peace Qazwini had been denied. First in California and then in Michigan, Qazwini saw a shocking new world in which leaders were openly mocked, women's bodies were on display in public, and Christian symbols were disparaged without consequence. He also saw a land in which the lack of a common faith necessitated a great effort to create a shared community. By counseling American Muslims?and sharing his religion with those of other beliefs?he came to feel at home in the country he already loved, and he became a trusted advisor to local and national politicians. Then, after 9/11, Osama bin Laden gave him "a new full-time job." American Crescent vividly describes Qazwini's efforts to show Americans how those who destroyed the World Trade Center had hijacked Islam as well, and that most Muslims were appalled by their actions. Yet he also takes the Bush administration to task for championing the prejudicial Patriot Act (after Muslims supported George W. Bush in the 2000 election) and deplores its conduct in the Iraq War. Throughout American Crescent, Qazwini offers a revelatory look at the tenets and history of Islam, defending it as a faith of peace and diversity, and challenging stereotypes and misconceptions promulgated by the media. Iran, he points out, has a higher percentage of women in its parliament than the United States does in both houses of Congress. "If you want to learn about Islam," he writes, "turn off the TV." At once a fascinating personal story and a heartfelt plea to integrate Islamic teachings into the tolerant traditions of America, this book is an important contribution to our understanding of all those who live among us, at a time when it matters most.
eBook Publisher: Random House, Inc./Random House,
Filament eBookStore Release Date: October 2007
Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [1.2 MB]
All formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
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Husayn vs. Hussein
The most excellent jihad is the uttering of truth in the presence of an unjust ruler.
—The Prophet Muhammad
ONE NIGHT IN early 1971, my father came home at nine o'clock to find an urgent message from the governor of Iraq's Karbala province, Shabib al-Maliki. He returned the call, and their conversation was brief, which made it either more ominous or less, I'm not sure. Governor Maliki wanted to see him right away. Nine o'clock was late for Karbala; in the Middle East lunch, not dinner, is the main meal of the day, and the first call to prayer comes at dawn. My father's experiences over the previous ten years, and especially in the two and a half years since the Baath party had come to power, had taught us that a request for a late-night meeting could signal nothing positive.
Two days earlier, a close friend of my father's, Ayatollah Mohammad Shirazi, had fled the country after learning of a plot to assassinate him. Ayatollah Shirazi was one of Iraq's most learned and trusted scholars of Islamic jurisprudence, a mujtahid, and he unflinchingly criticized the Baathists, a dangerous practice under an anti-Shia regime whose ideology and rule were based on consensus through fear. Baathist assaults frequently targeted the outspoken and the charismatic. The more influential the critic, the more savage the government's response. It might start with legal harassment and escalate to overt threats. Then anonymous agents of the Mukhabarat, the secret police known as the "visitors of the dawn," would knock on your door in the pre-waking hours when witnesses were few and the element of surprise high. If you were lucky, they administered a beating. If you were not, they took you to headquarters for interrogation, torture, or execution, depending on whether you told them what they wanted to hear. Detainees at Abu Ghraib, the British-built sixties-era facility where the Baathists held many of their political prisoners, experienced cruelty of the most imaginatively ghoulish varieties: scalding with boiling water in their most sensitive areas, branding, crucifixion, blinding with insecticides, feet-first insertion into an industrial grinder. They were dissolved in acid baths while their wives were forced to watch. Some simply vanished.
Upon learning of his impending fate, Ayatollah Shirazi made the sensible decision to avoid torture or death and instead struck out for Kuwait under cover of darkness. He told no one of his plan.
At the governor's office soon after receiving the message, my father joined a secretary and Governor Maliki himself, who didn't waste any time in revealing his agenda: Where is your friend Shirazi? Why did he leave? My father could take some comfort in the fact that Governor Maliki had seemingly called this meeting to discuss Ayatollah Shirazi and not his own criticisms of the regime, which were frequent.
I don't know where he went, my father said—and it was true; he did not—but I can tell you that Ayatollah Shirazi left because he feared for his life.
Two years earlier, Ayatollah Hassan Shirazi, Mohammad's brother, had written poems mocking the regime and openly denounced those in power as thugs and gangsters. He was arrested, tortured, and nearly executed. Only widespread public outrage at his treatment saved him. (He fled to Lebanon, where one of Saddam Hussein's agents assassinated him in 1980.)
Governor Maliki pretended for my father's benefit that Ayatollah Mohammad Shirazi had overreacted. Shirazi was very safe in Karbala, he said. He had no reason to worry.
You're right, my father said, and the best proof of what you say is the two sheikhs, Ayatollah Shirazi's associates, who were arrested at the doorstep of Imam Husayn's shrine yesterday. (The shrine dated to Karbala's very origins and powerfully symbolized the struggles for justice of all Shia Muslims.)
Governor Maliki retorted that the Iranian sheikhs, who were Shia clerics, had been deported for lack of proper documentation.
My father had known the governor, a Shia lawyer, for years before the Baathists came to power, and he knew he could not win this argument. Though not a Baathist himself, Maliki was accountable to them, and the future awaiting a governor who defied the regime would be dark, and short. The secretary left the room, and Governor Maliki fell silent. When he spoke again, his officious tone had disappeared.
Sayed Mortadha, he said, I love you, and I don't want you to get hurt. He shook his head. I should not give you this advice. My position requires that I not give you this advice …You will be next. If Shirazi had stayed, he would not be alive right now. You should go.
The next morning my mother woke us up at four o'clock instead of the usual seven and told us there would be no school that day. We were going on a trip to Basra. I was six years old and so happy about not going to school that I didn't think to question why we had to rise so early. We took only what we would need for a few days: a change of clothes and some snacks for the car. Everything else, including my father's extensive library, stayed behind. Before we left, my grandfather Ayatollah Mohammad Sadiq Qazwini stopped by the house, and my father knelt to kiss his hand. As they embraced, I sensed that it would be a long time before they saw each other again.
A Mercedes-Benz cab pulled up after morning prayers and all seven of us squeezed inside: my father, my mother, my three older brothers, my one older sister, and me. A ten-hour drive away, Basra was the largest city in southern Iraq, a somewhat ragged old port town once known as the Venice of the Middle East for its extensive canal system. Founded as a garrison a few years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, it seemed to be continually caught in the middle of conflict, probably because of its strategic position on the Shatt al-Arab, the union of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, near the Persian Gulf. All of Iraq's oil exports passed this way, and the borders of both Iran and Kuwait were less than thirty miles away. Later the city would be hit hard in the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War.
The tone in the car was not at all somber. For my siblings and me, this was a field trip. My father, however, remained quiet throughout the drive, looking serious and preoccupied. Occasionally he paged through a Qur'an he held on his lap and whispered a few prayers. We stopped only for bathroom breaks, and those weren't frequent enough.
Copyright © 2007 by Imam Hassan Qazwini.