Imam of Cedar Rapids (Iowa) mosque aims to change American outlook on Islam

AR-160819842CEDAR RAPIDS — Hassan Selim’s religion stands at a crossroads.

That’s how the 28-year-old Egyptian-born religious leader of the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids views the current tension surrounding Muslims in the United States and around the world.

As Imam, the worship leader in a mosque, Selim is attempting to teach his congregation how to be comfortable with their faith, he said. At the same time, he also is teaching them to use their religion as tools without creating a shell around themselves — something members of the public may misinterpret as sinister, he said.

“What I’m trying to do is find and define for my congregation an understanding of Islam that allows them to feel comfortable being both Muslims and Americans,” Selim said. “Unfortunately right now, there are many voices saying they can’t be both or both are at war.”

The mosque in Cedar Rapids hosts a mixed congregation of as many as 4,000 members of multigenerational American-born families and recent immigrants.

“Throughout history, someone has always been at the forefront of issues. Now it’s just (Muslims’) turn,” said Paul Habhab, Cedar Rapids resident and a Muslim who attends prayer at the Islamic Center.

Selim, who also is vice president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, is not attempting to prove anyone wrong about Islam. Instead, he hopes to show others that Islam and America could benefit one another in an inclusive relationship.

“I don’t have the idea that I can just stay in my mosque or monastery or place of worship and ask God to make a change happen,” Selim said. “I believe you’ve got to be the change.”



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