Friday, April 29, 2011

Muslim man brings humor to his role as religious leader

Imad Enchassi, imam and president   of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, holds a copy of the   Holy Quran at Mercy School, an Islamic school opened in 2010 in Oklahoma   City.  PHOTO BY JOHN CLANTON, THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVE

Imad Enchassi, imam and president of the Islamic Society of   Greater Oklahoma City, often tells jokes as he shares about his Muslim   faith and culture.

        April 29, 2011
As one of the more prominent Muslim leaders in the Oklahoma City   metro area, Imad Enchassi’s quick smile and endless supply of jokes   often diffuses any tension over religious differences.
Enchassi, the imam and president of the Islamic Society of Greater   Oklahoma City, said he learned that making people laugh humanizes him so   that people learn to look beyond common Muslim stereotypes.
“Comedy is part of our ‘treach’ — preach and teach,” he said.
“We’ve (Muslims) been dehumanized so when I go and crack a couple of jokes, they say ‘This imam, he’s funny, he’s human.’”
Enchassi, 46, readily brings his humor to the forefront, but his life   has not always been filled with fun and jokes. Prejudice and religious   bigotry have marked portions of his life, but he said he refuses to be   defined by it.
Enchassi grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, to a Syrian mother and Palestinian   father. He said he spent his teen years in the Sabra and Shatila   Palestinian refugee camps and was there in September 1982 when the camps   were set upon by a group called the Lebanese Christian militiamen and   hundreds of refugees were killed.
Enchassi said surviving the massacre made him think long and hard about the power and destructiveness of hatred.
“I knew that hatred had to stop. What hatred is so deep that would make someone cut a baby from the womb?” he said.
Enchassi said he immigrated to the United States soon after the massacre   and attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and Texas   Wesleyan College in Fort Worth. He said he worked his way through   college (he obtained a graduate degree in human resources management)   with a cafeteria chain that eventually sent him to Oklahoma City to   operate one of its restaurants.
Enchassi said he joined with a relatively small contingent of Muslims to   form the Islamic Society. He said a shortage of imams prompted the   society’s board to ask him to fill in as the organization’s spiritual   leader. He said he he’s the position of imam and society president since   2003.
Enchassi said the society started in an apartment on NW 50 and Portland   Avenue and met there for four years before opening the organization’s   current mosque in December 1997. He said the Muslim community that   attends services at the mosque, 3214 N St. Clair has grown from about 27   people to more than 1,000.
Enchassi said he went back to school in Lebanon several years ago to   earn a bachelor’s degree an doctorate degree in Islamic studies. He said   he felt it was important to obtain more knowledge about the roots of   his faith because he is now serving as spiritual guide for many Oklahoma   Muslims.
Enchassi said he’s proud of the fact that the society built a new   building to house Mercy School, the Islamic school it founded for local   Muslim youths.
He said the school is part of his two-fold vision for the future.
He said first, he and other society leaders will continue working to   educate Muslims, particularly young Muslims, about their faith. They   want to make sure they are proud of their faith and their place in   American society.
“Being American and Muslim does not contradict each other — they complements each other,” Enchassi said.
Second, the Muslim leader said he wants to continue educating the   community-at-large about the Islamic faith. He said strong interfaith   relationships in Oklahoma were developed in the aftermath of the   Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 when false rumors circulated that Muslims   were responsible for the tragedy. Enchassi said that interfaith   awareness helped in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks and he   said his vision is for those relationships with people and leaders of   other faiths to be strengthened.
“The aim is to prepare and educate people about Islam in order to move forward in the future.”
He’s writing a book about the lessons he’s learned.
“There is an Islamic proverb that says ‘Anytime I debate an intelligent   person, I win. Anytime I debate an ignorant person, he wins.’”
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Soomaaliya الصومال‎ Somali Republic

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