Who in Hell is “Imam” Feisal?

By Maniza NaqviUnhappy_face-300x290

For weeks now the crescendo of bigotry has been steadily rising in volume and vitriol on the issue of whether mosques, Muslims and their faith Islam are legitimate in America. In this rising temperature in a country at war with itself and the world, in the season of elections, the practice of citizens of the United States for upholding the constitution is under test as is their tolerance of their American idea of society. However, this vitriol was only inevitable given what it has taken to get to this point. Americans have been marinated since 9/11 in relentless relaying of hatred, misinformation and fear by opportunists of all kinds: the fraudulent celebrity journalists and terrorism experts with their hyena grins and black turtleneck sweaters to celebrity experts on Islam marinated in their own complexities and ambitions. Much profit has been made of this which can only be sustained through prophets of every creed on the make.

Who the hell is “Imam” Feisal Abdul Rauf? Why this honorific title of “Imam”? What does it mean? Is Mr. Rauf the scion of a religiously anointed family and therefore referred to by his followers as their imam? Does he have such a following which refers to him as an imam or has appointed him their leader? Shi’as have Imams—but unless he is Imam Mahdi and he is not, he cannot be the Shi’a Imam—and unless he is the Aga Khan he cannot be the Ismaili Imam. Or is he, as the word can also be used, the caretaker of a specific mosque? Such an imam is responsible for the upkeep of the bricks and mortar of a mosque—and is paid through donotions for the job of leading the prayers by simply standing in front of the congregation to say and do exactly what the rest of the congregation is doing in the prescribed way. Such an imam of a mosque leads the prayer—he is not a leader. He does not design a prayer or a sermon. Is Mr. Feisal Rauf referred to as imam in that context? If so then he is not Imam Feisal. He is Mr. Rauf the imam of such and such mosque. In which case, the question becomes: in which mosque in New York is he an imam?

Is Mr. Rauf being referred to as an imam in anticipation of a mosque that doesn’t exist yet? Because he certainly is not a caretaker of any of the dozens of mosques in Manhattan or of any of the hundreds all over New York or in the Tri-state area or anywhere in the United States.

I am baffled that Mr. Feisal Rauf is being presented as though he were an equivalent in the world to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury or the Pope or the Patriarchs of Orthodox Christianity. Is Mr. Rauf making his debut much like the Rais in Sarajevo—an imam of a mosque in the city who has been pumped up to the world in a similar manner to become something that he is not to most hapless and bemused Bosnian Muslims in the aftermath of war?

By all accounts Mr. Feisal Rauf appears to be a schmoozer from New York and is being fashioned by the State Department to be the representative of Islam in America. Is the State Department cobbling together its own version of Islam with a telegenic “imam”—for a brand of American Islam? If this is the case and certainly it seems that way then this is first and foremost a disservice to American Muslims the overwhelming majority do not view Mr. Rauf as their representative for anything let alone faith and second, it is a huge disservice to the United States of America which would yet again be seen in the broader world as fraudulent in its packaging of an argument.

There are millions of Muslims in America who unassisted by celebrity or ambition live their faith in their American way everyday—they are the American Islam in need of no assistance.

All this debating and discussion of religion and constitution should be invigorating after all America is a work in progress. But it is not, mainly because politics and religion are a witch’s brew but also because this appears to be nothing more than an act of pouring oil on a fire in the context of two wars waged by the United States in two Muslim countries, the privatization of military and security apparatuses and the considerable mangling of the constitution already in progress in the wake of 9/11.

Mr. Feisal Rauf in his eagerness to be loved may be out of his depth—and the State Department in its eagerness to manufacture love may just have opened the gateway to hell for many if not most Muslims in America. Wisdom absent all around and mischief in abundance. The same media channels and the same State Department who made the case for the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq now make the case for the existence of an “Imam” in America. A Mr. Feisal Abdul Rauf, who as far as facts go is without a following to care for, and without a mosque, for which to care.