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Imam stresses commonalities of religions

By Susan Whitney
Deseret News

Published: Saturday, May 10, 2008 12:50 a.m. MDT

When he speaks at Westminster College next Saturday, Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini will say the things he always says at an interfaith gathering.

"I'm going to stress the commonalities of the Abrahamic traditions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam," he said. "I strongly believe that we emerge from one source, which is God. And all those messengers — Moses, Jesus and Mohammed — aim for the same goal of uniting people with God's wisdom and knowledge."

Imam al-Qazwini spoke with the Deseret News from his office in the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County, Calif. As the host of a nationally broadcast program on Salaam TV and one of the more well-known imams in the United States, he often gets a chance to speak to interfaith groups.

Sometimes, he admits, he gets a bit discouraged. When he speaks to university groups or religious groups, he is speaking to people who accept and welcome his message. He is speaking to people who understand that all faiths seek the same sort of spiritual transformation.

In everyday life, however, Imam al-Qazwini sees little implementation of the religious unity he talks about.

"Modern politics should not divide people of faith," he says. But it does. "Some political leaders, and also some religious leaders, strive to put a wedge between people."

Story continues below

Imam al-Qazwini was born in Karbala, Iraq. It is a city many people have heard of now, he notes.

His family fled the persecution of Saddam Hussein when he was a small child. Once they were safely in the U.S., his fathers and brothers set about establishing a mosque. His family is responsible for founding four mosques in California and one in Michigan. "We preach the modern version of Islam," he says.

During the last few years, since the fall of Saddam, Imam al-Qazwini has been back to his birthplace five times. He says he and his family waited all these years to go back to Karbala, to reunite with relatives. Fifteen members of their family were executed under Saddam's regime, he says. "Including my grandfather, at the age of 80."

The family does charity work in Iraq now, he says. They've started orphanages, a school and a trade school for teens, and they have built two floors of what they hope ultimately will be a nine-floor hospital.

The U.S. branch of the family has long wanted to be involved in Iraq, he says. Some of the knowledge they've gained about how to run a philanthropy they gained in this country.

Iraq is his birthplace, but America is his home now, Imam al-Qazwini says. "It is the home of my kids. And we are practicing Islam here."



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