Friday, June 1, 2007
The rare American imam
MISSION VIEJO, Calif. — Sheik Yassir Fazaga regularly uses a standard American calendar to provide inspiration for his weekly Friday sermon.
Around Valentine’s Day this year, he talked about how the Koran endorses romantic love within certain ethical parameters. (As opposed to say, clerics in Saudi Arabia, who denounce the banned saint’s day as a Satanic ritual.)
On World AIDS Day, he criticized Muslims for making moral judgments about the disease rather than helping the afflicted, and on International Women’s Day he focused on domestic abuse.
“My main objective is to make Islam relevant,” said Sheik Fazaga, 34, who went to high school in Orange County, which includes Mission Viejo, and brings a certain American flair to his role as imam in the mosque here.
As a previous member of "Sheikh Fazaga"'s community, I whole heartedly agree with many of the statements in the article. In fact, the OC Muslim community is a privileged one because of its many religious and community leaders who are going the extra mile to share the message of Islam in a relevant and refreshing manner; Sheikh Yassir is only one example, but an excellent one.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about communities in the Arab world. Although the issue of first- and second-generation immigrants is not present, religious sermons are still mostly superficial and completely irrelevant. One is likely to hear a khutbah (sermon) about respecting elders or performing prayers, but not about global poverty, hunger, AIDS, justice, corruption, democracy,... Many immigrant imams in the US are only reiterating what they are used to "back home", which is usually just as irrelevant there as it is in the US.
Even worse, in a growing number of countries in the Arab world, religious sermons are very closely scrutinized by the government to that extent that imams no longer have a say in what they discuss during their sermons. The text of the khutbah is distributed to the imams beforehand by the religious authority and most imams just read it out-loud.
No wonder I'm sitting here blogging away instead of getting ready for Friday prayer. I think I was spoilt by So. Cal. khutbahs.