Like others living in Southern California, this father’s thoughts often turn to the safety of his family and loved ones.

But unlike most others, this father knows that war threatens his family in Iraq, and that religious intolerance threatens his family both here and in Iraq.

Sayed Moustafa Al-Qazwini, imam at the Islamic Education Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa, is the father of five children and grandfather of one. He was born in the holy city of Karbala, Iraq, where his father is still an imam, as Islamic clergy and scholars are called. But his homeland is now a place where religious affiliation can target a person for persecution and death.

A member of the Shiite sect, Al-Qazwini traces his lineage back through 42 generations to the Prophet Muhammad. Shiites are the largest Muslim sect in Iraq, though a minority among the world’s Muslims.

Arriving in the U.S. in 1994, Al-Qazwini has been active in interfaith projects for years. Benjamin J. Hubbard, professor emeritus of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton, says “Imam Al-Qazwini appears committed to reaching out to the wider Orange County religious and civic community to build bridges of understanding and make people aware that Muslims – especially the Shiites whom he represents – are committed to living constructively in this country. The presence in the county of a distinguished Muslim scholar like Imam Al-Qazwini is a real plus.”

Al-Qazwini has often condemned the tyranny of Saddam Hussein’s regime. “Saddam was using biological and chemical weapons against his own people and had ordered countless tortures, imprisonments and killings targeting any person or organization that defied his rule. I know of this personally; 19 members of my family were subjected to such trials,” he stated in one article.

Last week, an al-Qaida spokesman called on people to greet President Bush with “bombs and booby-trapped vehicles” during his visit to the Middle East.

“Al-Qaida has no justification to exist,” said Al-Qazwini. “Al-Qaida does not represent the true Islam. Unfortunately a group of misled people are following a mass murderer by the name of Osama bin Laden and they do not represent the Islamic culture or the Arabic culture.”

Baffled by people who use religion as a threat and reason to kill, we, like so many others, sought answers from Imam Al-Qazwini.

Q: What’s the first thing you think of when you hear threats of violence by al-Qaida?

A: I’m extremely appalled and disgusted when I hear any news about threats or violence against any person. Although I disagree with some aspects of the president’s foreign policy, I think he’s going to the area as a guest. … In Islam, we respect the guest, whoever he is, for whatever purpose he’s coming, and we provide him with hospitality and security.

Q: Some say American Muslims do not denounce acts of terrorism loud enough, and often enough. What are your thoughts about this?

A: As an imam living in America the last 12 years, I myself denounced terrorism. Hundreds of my friends and colleagues, imams throughout the nation, from coast to coast, on many occasions we strongly denounced terrorism. But some people hear us, they listen to us, they accept us, they understand us. Other people, they don’t want to hear this. Other people rejoice when there is bad news, not good news. Other people, unfortunately, try to undermine the Islamic religion. … As a servant of Islam in this country, I think I’m doing more than enough to denounce terrorism and also to promote mutual understanding and mutual respect for all people. (MORE)


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