The rhythmic clapping began the minute Amr Khaled stepped through the door of the packed Crystal City ballroom. Surrounded by security guards, the Egyptian preacher had to weave his way through the crowd -- men both cleanshaven and bearded, women both fashionably coifed and dressed in conservative Islamic dress -- that had come from up and down the East Coast to hear him. Two massive screens projected his image to those in the back.
"My goal is that you leave happy," Khaled began softly, once he finally got to the lectern. "My goal is to fulfill the hadith of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that says, 'Whoever puts joy in the hearts of the believers, his reward is not less than Paradise.'" The crowd ate it up. For the next 90 minutes, they laughed at his witticisms, smiled at his stories, nodded at his exhortations and clapped again -- spontaneously and often. But most of all, they listened intently.
The rock-star preacher in the designer suit, often called "the anti-bin Laden," had arrived in America with his new brand of upbeat, feel-good Islam.
For American Muslims beset by the tensions of the post-9/11 world, Khaled came to address a deep crisis of confidence. He tried to bridge the gap between conflicting allegiances, notably their U.S. citizenship and their fury at U.S. policy in Iraq and other Muslim countries.
“I feel what 9/11 has done to you. You are all crying aloud: ‘This is not Islam. We reject this,’” he said at the appearance sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America. “At the same time, we don't agree with what is happening in Iraq. We feel confusion, pain. . . .
“You came to this country to provide for your families. Do we isolate ourselves from society? Or do we completely assimilate and forget our faith and our background? Do we hate the society we live in?” he asked. “No! The prophet Muhammad taught us kindness, justice, mercy, coexistence with others, that God created us different so that we can get to know one another.”
In sermons, speeches and appearances throughout his first trip to the United States, in May -- he said he hopes to return often -- Khaled spoke consistently of compromise and coexistence. "My message is: Please be rightful representatives for your religion," he said in an interview. "Please show people here your good manners, your attitude of hard work, how you can succeed in this society, what you can add, your positive integration while maintaining pride in Islam -- so people know how really great this religion is." (MORE)