There he was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at a lavish reception marking the nation’s 50th anniversary of independence. Britain’s Prince Andrew was seated to his right, Australia’s ambassador to his left, and Brunei’s foreign minister across the table.
“And they were asking me about Muslims in America,” said Imam Talal Eid, recalling the event a month later.
The 56-year-old Lebanon native and Quincy resident is fielding such questions more often than ever these days, in farther-flung places. Four months after he became the first Muslim cleric appointed to the high-profile U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he is traveling the globe acting as something of a U.S. ambassador to the Islamic world.
Before he went to Malaysia, he was in commission delegations to Saudi Arabia and the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan, two countries where religious minorities of all denominations are harassed and suppressed. His next trip comes in October, when a commission group will visit Vietnam to investigate similar issues there.
His efforts have drawn praise from commission Chairman Michael Cromartie.
“Imam Eid brings a vast store of knowledge on issues related to Islam,” Cromartie said. “He gives us wonderful credibility. He can press the points better than we can.”
Two years ago, the imam’s prospects didn’t seem so promising. He left the Islamic Center of New England in July 2005 amid a bitter dispute over his role there after 23 years as spiritual director. Despite growing national recognition and the loyalty of many Muslims south of Boston, he was a man without a mosque.
As it turned out, he didn’t need one. He has remade himself into a freelance imam – a pastoral counselor, hospital and university chaplain and more – marrying Muslim couples, conducting funerals and advising the devout. (MORE)