Muslim leader moves forward after leaving Dearborn mosque

SHAFAQNA - One of America’s most well-known Muslim leaders has plans for a new mosque as his followers leave the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.

It was close to midnight inside a community center in Dearborn as the religious leader spoke to a crowd of hundreds, many sitting on the floor because of the overflow crowd.

“We have to speak for Islam,” Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini implored the Muslim audience at the Bint Jbeil Cultural Center. “Because if you don’t speak for your religion … ISIS will speak for your religion,” he said, using another name for the Islamic State. “The extremists will speak for your religion.”

Al-Qazwini’s speech during a Ramadan lecture this summer in Dearborn showed that he still has a large following despite being pushed out of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, a prominent mosque that he led for 17 years. In an interview with the Free Press, Al-Qazwini, 51, talked about his plans to open a mosque called the Islamic Institute of America and an accompanying group, Muslim Youth Connection. He has met with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to talk about his new center and was with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other Muslim leaders at the State Department’s annual Eid dinner.

After a tumultuous year that saw one of North America’s most prominent Shia mosques split into two camps, Al-Qazwini is forging ahead, not only with plans for a new mosque, but with possible future projects that include a satellite TV station, Islamic college, health care clinic and Islamic nursing home.

“Our new mosque will not be just a traditional mosque where people go and pray,” Al-Qazwini said in his Canton home. “Rather, I hope it is going to be a community center where we can focus on more than one aspect. … My main priority now is the youth … I would like to see that the youth are empowered and assuming a leadership role in the Muslim community. Traditionally, in most mosques in Dearborn, there is no youth presence.”

While the Islamic Center’s membership was primarily Lebanese Shia, the new center is “not going to be ethnically based, nor sectarian based,” Al-Qazwini added. “It’s going to be appealing to all Muslims, Sunni and Shia … and all Muslims as far as their ethnicities and races.”

Al-Qazwini also hopes to open a media center and continue the interfaith work he has done, while teaching a new generation. His plans reflect how Muslim leaders in the U.S. are trying to balance fighting extremism with maintaining their faith.

“If we, the moderate Muslims, do not reach out to our youth, we are going to run one of the two risks,” Al-Qazwini said. “Either those youth will be… assimilated in the big society where they will not be able to identify with Islam anymore. … The other risk that we may run into if we do not reach out to our youth is the radicalization. More and more Muslim youth are joining ISIS.”

Last month, Al-Qazwini led about 150 Muslims ages 16-30 on a retreat at Camp Taha in Columbiaville, where they discussed Islamic issues while enjoying the outdoors. And he has been outspoken in recent weeks in defending the right of Muslims to build a mosque on 15 Mile Road in Sterling Heights. He’s continuing to connect with audiences.

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