Sunday, September 16, 2007

Detroiter makes impact on U.S. Muslim community

Excerpt of article from today's Detroit Free Press.

September 16, 2007



For two-plus years, Walid has been the executive director of the Michigan office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Southfield; CAIR is headquartered in Washington, D.C., has 32 offices in the United States and Canada and is considered the leading civil rights group in the United States for Muslims.

Walid is everywhere, it seems. His eloquence and charisma have him speaking throughout metro Detroit and even nationwide, including appearances on CNN and C-SPAN.

In the spring, he was at Harvard University talking about the importance of getting out the black vote. This summer, he was on Free Press staffer Mitch Albom's radio show talking about a government raid of two Islamic charities, and in Kalamazoo speaking to thousands at a rally meant to promote diversity.

"Islam makes life easier, and it makes sense to me. In Islam, we have very clear directives and prohibitions," he said, pointing to the prohibitions against gambling and drinking as examples. "Having those frees the mind to contemplate other things."

For Walid, that means hours poring over books, often rereading them (recently, "King Leopold's Ghost," about the Belgian genocide in colonial Zaire, and "Emotional Intelligence," a book about alternatives to the IQ test). He listens to talk shows while at his desk at work or while driving between engagements, including those on which Muslims are often criticized.

"You may not agree with every perspective out there, but you always gain something small from listening to opposing views," said Walid.

It's a vision he says he lacked when he was young, though it was the diversity of his upbringing -- he recollects fondly the ethnically and racially mixed classrooms of his public school education in Richmond, Va. -- that grounded him firmly in moderate Islam.

He represents a swath of black American Muslims who've transitioned from the extremes of the Nation of Islam to the moderation of orthodox Islam over the past three decades, becoming part of America's growing and increasingly vocal Muslim minority.

"He represents the true image of a Muslim, which is always internationally tuned in," said Abdullah El-Amin, a 62-year-old African-American Muslim activist and Detroiter who also converted to Islam as a youth and has known Walid for years.

"Walid just naturally fits into that mold of Islam" that embraces diversity, El-Amin said. "He lives it and he believes in it, and he's doing a great job of bringing that part of the religion to life."

Najah Bazzy, a descendant of Middle Eastern Muslims and a Canton resident, recalls meeting Walid 8 years ago at a youth ministry and being taken by his enthusiasm.

"He's extremely media savvy," said Bazzy, 47 and a mother of four, who says she often finds herself sharing a podium with him at speaking engagements.

Bazzy, a Muslim, is the director of Zaman International, an interfaith charity that does work throughout metro Detroit. "He's a really good bridge builder between Sunnis and Shiites, too," she said.(MORE)

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