On campuses every day, young Muslims are called on to explain themselves, to explain what they are, and what they aren’t, and to explain what they believe, not just in the religious sense, but in terms of their feelings about ISIS.
It’s not an easy job, and as the new Executive Director of the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC), Imam Mohamed Almasmari wants to prepare them to do that.
“People call them terrorists. They call them ISIS. We acknowledge the problem and empower them,” says Almasmari. “People need to see us as normal people. We speak about our faiths and what we have in common. We have similar struggles. When people get that part of it, it brings a lot of relief.”
Imam Almasmari also spends a lot of time on campuses, sitting down with students and staff. “Once we’re able to clear the issues, there’s a huge difference,” he says. The most common question is ‘What do you guys believe in?’
Almasmari says that people are usually surprised to find out that Islam reveres Moses and Jesus. “They don’t know our belief system,” he says.
Imam Almasmari also works with other local clergy to promote understanding, and is planning a seminar for Detroit area clergy in the coming year to explain Islam.
These outreach efforts are a big part of the MMCC’s mission to “promote unity and cooperation among the diverse Muslim communities, cultures, ethnic backgrounds and races by convening and mobilizing the Muslim community, to promote the best Islamic and American values through advocacy, and organizing service, education and partnerships and coalitions with ethnic racial, religious, education and civic organizations, government and the media others, and to pursue social justice, improve human relations and uphold human rights in America.”
It is a group made up of professionals, interfaith activists and political activists representing the thousands of Muslims in cities across Michigan.
One of their primary advocacy efforts is their annual Michigan Muslim Capitol Day, during which Muslims from across Michigan meet their elected officials, discuss important issues in their own communities, attend State House and Senate sessions, meet with legislators and enjoy lunch with key leaders
During Ramadan, volunteers pack and deliver thousands of baskets of food and household supplies and deliver them to needy families in Detroit.
“It brings us peace that people living in poverty can enjoy their needs. People appreciate anything, especially in Detroit,” says Almasmari. “The simplicity in things are when you find a lot of blessings.”
Almasmari was born and raised in Michigan. He traveled to Yemen for his formal Islamic training, where he memorized the Quran and earned his Bachelor & Master Degrees in Islamic Sciences & Islamic Law. After completing his studies, the Shaykh returned to America and served as Imam in Oakland, California and Brooklyn, New York. He is currently the spiritual leader of the Muslim Unity Center in Bloomfield Hills where he lives with his wife and three young children.
When the busy Imam is asked how he came to be the leader of MMCC, he smiles and says “I don’t know.”
He admits being hesitant to take on too much, but, he says “I guess everything happens for a reason. I believe that every time you get comfortable, God throws a new challenge at you.”