Interview with Imam Omar Abu Namous, the Islamic Center of NY
Pola Rosen, Ed.D. and Marylena Mantas
high above the rounded dome with its shining gold crescent is
the minaret calling Muslims to prayer five times daily, in the
midst of bustling New York City. The largest mosque in the region,
with its granite fence and large verdant grounds, encompasses
almost a square block, from 96th Street to 97th Street along Third
Inside the carpeted interior, one leaves shoes in a cubicle, and
enters a brilliantly tiled interior where men are silently praying
on knees and prostrating themselves toward the east. The eastern
wall contains a niche, Al Mihrab, with an inscription from the
Koran reading So turn your face in the direction of the sacred
mosque of Mecca. Each mosque has a different inscription in
its Al Mihrab.
In discussing the recent tragedy at the World Trade Center, Imam
Omar Abu Namous, head of the 4,000 member mosque, underscored
the importance of “peace, security and mutual love among people.
We have to work on that.” The Imam feels we all have to launch
a campaign to increase understanding and love. He reminded us
that the prophet Mohammed used to receive Christian delegations
in his own mosque even if they came to argue. “We should do the
same in our contemporary times and should take the initiative
in building bridges,” the Imam stated.
linguistically means a leader of any kind. The current meaning
is limited to spiritual leader. There are about 100 mosques in
the greater NYC area, according to the Imam. “Muslims have been
presented in an unfavorable light by the media. This has created
a readiness on behalf of the population to accuse Islam,” according
to the Imam. The previous Imam just departed for Egypt because
his children were threatened in front of their own home. Imam
Omar Abu Namous continued, “We worship the same God as Christians
and have the same values.”
In referring to the men who committed the heinous crimes in New
York, the Imam said it was not proven that they were Muslims.
Actually, “people who commit crimes have no religion,” he said.
“These people don’t represent any faith. They did this on their
own. They are deeply frustrated and have lost all hope in justice.”
The Imam has lectured to Muslim school groups on tolerance and
good relations with Christians. “Our interests are interwoven
because many Muslims and Christians have intermarried. In emphasizing
the family unit, Sundays at the mosque are social gathering days.
Invited speakers have discussed Muslims in the United States and
Islam and America, among other topics. The Imam indicated that
he would be willing to speak to American school groups to further
understanding of the Muslim religion.
When asked whether El Siglo de Oro, the Golden Age of Spain when
Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in harmony, could ever happen
again, the Imam answered yes, through education.
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