City's Muslim youth issue 'call of distress' http://www.ottawacitizen.com/Sports/City+Muslim+youth+issue+call+distress/1403779/story.html
Many want a leader familiar with daily societal pressures
By Jennifer Green, The Ottawa Citizen
March 19, 2009 9:01 AM
Imam Khaled Abdul-Hamid Syed wants disaffected Muslim youth to come talk to him about how the mosque can better help them. As for remarks from his critics, he says, 'I don't occupy my mind with it ... I am outside the fighting arena.'
Photograph by: Jean Levac, The Ottawa CitizenA small but outspoken group of young Ottawa Muslims want the city's new imam replaced with someone who speaks their language, literally and figuratively.
"(It's) not the person himself, it's the language barrier and failure to understand our problems," said 20-year-old Sara Mohamed. "I really feel, when I hear this imam that, yes, he is very knowledgeable and I have a lot of respect for him, but, as a leader of those of us who have been here for quite some time, I don't feel he represents me."
Mohamed sent the Citizen an e-mail entitled "A Call of Distress from an Unheard Voice: The Muslim Youth of Ottawa."
The statement said many young Muslims are drifting away from their faith, dabbling in drugs, alcohol and dating. They have no strong Muslim leaders to identify with. "At a time when most young Muslims have multiple difficulties relating to their own parents, communicating with an 'imported imam' is simply not an appealing substitute," said the statement.
"Rarely can a foreign leader present the faith in an effective and humble way to Muslim or non-Muslim youth."
The group is criticizing 37-year-old Imam Khaled Abdul-Hamid Syed who arrived in Ottawa last July from Egypt with impressive scholastic credentials, but halting English.
Mohamed Ghadban, president of the Ottawa Muslim Association, acknowledges the imam's early sermons were difficult to understand. "His English wasn't very good." Since then, "this imam has come a long way in terms of his English, 1,000 per cent."
"Some people don't like him -- I'm being honest with you -- and some people like him." The association will have its general annual meeting April 19.
It has the option of continuing with the imam for the next two years or finding another one.
The imam spoke to the Citizen Wednesday in heavily accented, but perfectly understandable English, saying he would encourage disaffected youth to come talk to him about how the mosque can better help them.
As for the personal remarks, he says, "I don't occupy my mind with it ... I am outside the fighting arena." He likes Ottawa, even its winters, but he believes God will send him where he can serve best.
In the meantime, he has started programs for children, youth and women.
On March 27 at 6 p.m., he will hold an open discussion session for youth, something he planned before this week's e-mail statement.
Ghadban said Ottawa is a tremendously challenging community because there are so many nationalities among Muslims, from Pakistanis to Indonesians to Lebanese.
The position of imam at the mosque on Northwestern Avenue is particularly sensitive because it has traditionally been at the centre of Ottawa's Muslim community of about 65,000 people, and its imam represents the people to the Canadian government.
After the previous imam Gamal Solaiman retired in 2007, the congregation wanted a man fluent in English and savvy about modern life in the west. Many argued the imam ought to be Canadian, or at least North American.
At the time some 600 or so signed an online petition to that effect at http://www.petitiononline.com/imam/petition.html
The petition said: "We do not need to 'import' an imam from abroad. We need an imam who has a command of English, who has lived in the west, and who has a knowledge of daily societal pressures," said the signatories (some as young as 11 years old).
Finally, the Ottawa Muslim Association turned to the Egyptian Ministry of Religious Affairs for help after a global, 15-month search came up empty. Their involvement led to the selection of current imam.
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