Gary Edwards may sound like a curious candidate for imam of Tucson’s largest mosque.

A 39-year-old native of Tennessee, Edwards, also known as Na’eem abdul Wali, grew up as a Southern Baptist on a farm in Indiana and studied insects at Purdue.

Yet abdul Wali is not only qualified for the job, he’s also a strong contender to be spiritual leader for the 1,000 worshippers at the Islamic Center of Tucson, 901 E. First St., and will be the key Muslim organizer in this weekend’s Children of Abraham Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk.

“Na’eem is a candidate on a short list to be imam of the Islamic Center, which is in the process of interviewing other candidates. He is charge of youth programs, prison programs and outreach for the center,” Islamic Center administrator Muhammad As’ad said.

An imam is by definition the man who leads prayers in a mosque. The center’s last imam, Jordanian Omar Shahin, left the mosque abruptly in June after leading the Islamic Center for three years and the center has been searching for a new spiritual leader ever since. Tucson has three mosques and the Islamic Center, made up mainly of Sunni Muslims, is the largest. About 8,000 Muslims live in the Tucson area…


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