Imam Yusuf Saleem, is recognized as a dynamic leader in the Muslim Community that is in the Association of Imam W.D. Mohammed. In September 2001, Imam Saleem met with President Bush and other Muslim leaders to condemn the attacks and to present a united front against terrorism and on October 24, 2001, the leadership of the U.S. Senate invited Imam Saleem to speak on Islam at their weekly Prayer Breakfast (the first guest speaker in 50 years). He also formally opened the U.S. Senate with prayer, following in the footsteps of the invocation given by Imam W.D. Mohammed in 1992, and again in 2007 formally opened the U.S. House of Representatives at the invitation of the first Muslim Congressman, Keith Ellison. Imam Saleem was appointed by Imam W.D. Mohammed to serve as the National Director of Education for the former American Society of Muslims School System for the period of November 2000 to May 2003. During the first four months of his term as Director, Professor Saleem visited over 15 full-time Clara Muhammad Schools located across the nation to assist their overall status and to determine the steps needed for integration into a school system, the first of its kind to exist in this country. In recognition of Imam Saleem’s hard work and dedication, the National Capitol Area branch of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) recognized him as a Community Leader in May of 2002. In August of 2002, Imam Saleem joined other Faith Clergy in receiving the First Mayoral Clergy Award, presented by Anthony A. Williams, former Mayor of Washington, D.C. In September of 2002, the Muslim Community in the Association with Imam W.D. Mohammad selected him as the Muslim Man of the Year for 2002. Imam Saleem retired as Resident Imam of Masjid Muhammad in Washington on March 24, 2010. Imam Saleem is a graduate of Howard University, where he received the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education at the Clara Muhammad School in Washington, D.C. In March of 1990, Imam Saleem accompanied a national delegation of educators to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of King Fard, Custodian of the two Holy Places (Mecca and Medina), and in August of 1993, represented Imam W.D. Mohammed by receiving the Medal of Honor (for the second time) presented by Hosni Mubarak. Over the course of his career, Imam Saleem has taught in Catholic, Public, and Muslim school settings and has held positions of principal, teacher, and professor. He currently serves as the first Chaplin of the Islamic Faith to the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C.
Meeting with Kamal and Salma Zaidan
This session rates as one of the most “touching: meeting of my “G-d intended” journeys. I will attempt to give each word its weight to get to the core. First of all we were hosted in the warm home of Kamal al Salma Zaidan. El Kamal conducted the majority of the interview with his precious wife and companion of 43 years. They stayed close/touching each other as she served us coffee at the beginning. Although she knew the family history as well as her husband, she listened intently and respectfully as if it was her first time. The Zaidans could be models for all marriages- whether Jewish, Christian or Muslims.
The first part was wrenchingly painful. He spoke of the sons and his brother killed in the early days of history. He remarked later that, “We can identify with each others pain EVEN if we caused it”. He supported this statement remembering that 45,000 attended his son’s funeral as well as many attended the suicide bomber’s funeral who didn’t know his son, but such is conflict. Again Kamal’s wisdom shared that “Peace requires living with loving relationships.” Even Salma’s mother passed when she was 12 years old and 3 years later her father. She also lost her sister and 2 sons later on. Kamal remarked that if he had to explain how he was able to live through these tragedies, he couldn’t.
The next portion was spent explaining the roots and work and BENEFITS of the organization that eventually brought us to his home – THE BEREAVED FAMILY FOUNDATION. It began with only Israelis as members, which Kamal said that couldn’t work, until it grew to now 500 families, including Palestinian. That’s what Kamal emphasized his entire talk was FAMILIES, in fact he said that the State was just a larger family. Mr. Zaidan said they meet annually and have a constitution which is NOT written and there are no plans to change it.
Finally he gave comments on the importance of family “not even believing in mixed marriages”. He proudly commented on the success of his family-sons and daughters and grandchildren – all contributing in their various fields e,g teaching, medicine (psychologist).
I am now concluding with some PEARLS of WISDOM from Kamal Zaidan of the BEREAVED FAMILY FOUNDATION (BFF).
“Must make Peace to avoid sacrificing your children in death”
“One G-D regardless of religion or race”
“Always look at yourself FIRST”
“The Difference is the Religious People NOT the Religion”
“You can run away from everyone but NOT your Conscience.”
“In The End say Thank G-D”
Visit to Al-Madresah
After purchasing soccer ball, hula hoops, and painting and crayon and paper we brought unusual recently SMILES to the faces of the elementary school. They just experience severe damage to the school. In welcoming the group even children /students began to smile. We met with the headmaster, consul of the city. The consul called the acts terrorist, causing over $900,000 damages in children’s school. This was truly touching since children are so innocent. Female Teacher, Faten Mohammed was instrumental in bringing this event about. Many donations have been collected such as computers and fax machines.
The event ended with a mass meeting with pictures done by students and comments of praise and keep up the good work. The students had a special clap and were fortified to have hope and press for another day. Many students need additional help but the staff pushed on .
Allah who Akbar God is the greatest
Blog Post #3
24th of January
Visiting Christian sites
Being a convert from Christianity to Islam I have a deep empathy observing the outward display of commitment shown by the Christians visiting their holy places. I recall myself being baptized in the Church at a very young age and saw it as a symbol of commitment to the faith. Now being Muslim I still see a need to demonstrate such commitment as shown in reciting the (SHAHADA). Now for me the water in baptism means knowledge as well as morals. It is impossible to have human life without water, therefore it is impossible to have spiritual life without morals and knowledge. In fact the spiritual life is the real life, not the material life.
My father and mother who are Christians have both passed away and in fact my father was a Christian minister. He would have loved to have made this trip in his lifetime. But God would have it that I made it for them instead. Often when I return to the church I let them know that the good moral foundation that I have, came from the church and Islam has enhanced my ability to see beyond the symbols-one of which is water.
We have to get the Christians, Muslims and the Jews to treat each other as prophet Issa (Jesus), Muhammad (PBUH) and Moses would do if they lived together today.
I was also impressed with the large tour groups from Nigeria, which I found out are supported by the government on pilgrimage trips to the Holy Land.
The bustling city life of Nazareth encouraged me to stay a few days longer. The stores offered so many merchandise that would make wonderful ornaments in any Christian home. Yet many stores also offered Islamic souvenirs, and in some cases, they were side by side. So how can we have the challenges we have in this area? This shows the complexity of peacemaking, but this also shows that it can happen on a small scale growing to the larger community. If only more of my Muslim comrades could witness the peace I observed, and not only the eternal conflict that is presented on TV.
In the name of God the Almightly
22nd of January
Visiting BirZeit and Meeting WorldVision
The entire group was excited and was looking forward to visit the campus of BirZeit University. The visit was preceded by expectations of a campus of zealots who thrived in the tensions and problems of the area. But to our surprise the first person we met was the public relations director. She was very aware of the university’s image of having student activists. She indicated that this is not the state of affairs at the school. They welcomed visitors to see and share the campus life.
Then we met with our guide’s cousin and were introduced to the academic advisor dean who spent at least an hour with us and suggested that political differences didn’t dominate student relationships. But he admitted there was a need to have dialogue and have literature available to students concerning interfaith relationships. He himself joined the school last August after working at a university in Chicago. He was married and had children and was an observant Muslim man. He expressed a willingness to have such interfaith groups as us represented to meet and have forums with the students. For right now he was willing to accept any literature that could be placed in the library for students currently enrolled.
Then we were blessed to meet three Christian female students who were majoring in English.They were quite friendly and open about their student lives. They were happy and looking forward to being employed in their field, such as teaching. One was working on her advanced degree and was already employed at an NGO. This meeting encouraged us to want to return and meet with other students.
I was blessed to have the opportunity to eat and discuss matters with Brian Duss from WorldVision. He once lived in Washington D.C. and was educated at universities in America. Brian was quite knowledgeable and was able to clearly express the dynamics and the complexity of the situation in the Holy Land. His work involved activities with youth all around the globe and his assignment was here specifically. He is the director of church relations, advocacy and peacebuilding. He exhibited a sincere passion for his work. He told us that we are at a lull of peace at this time. He was able to ask keen questions to all of us in the interfaith group to challenge us to see that the solution is not so simple. But despite his eagerness to continue his tenure here in Jerusalem, I was quite impressed with him feeling obligated because of his background to make this commitment with the youth. In fact he is very tall which suggest a future in basketball which his father played briefly. He indicated that he was happy that he didn’t progress in the sports arena but instead in the human arena. He was well read and was very clear of the subtleties and dynamics of this landscape. Personally, I was comforted meeting a young man willing to donate his intellect, energy and experience to a peaceful resolution in Jerusalem.
Blog Post #2
23rd of January – Hopeful Day
Neve Shalom Wahat El Salam
I was very struck that such a community exists and I applaud the founder Mr. Bruno for sticking through the transitions that they went through and how the emphasis changed from dialogue to learning the concept of living with conflict.
Later we had a listening circle where people expressed moments of transformation in their lives. I found such an experience good for the soul and good for peace of mind, especially in a place of tension. We also met with Sulhita youth who were mixed Muslims and Jews who demonstrated compassion for each other and a willingness to share feelings in the circle of listening. One particular youth told us the familiar story of “red riding hood” but challenged us to see the story from the wolf’s point of view. This can be a challenge for people in the current situation to see the other person’s point of view.
Neve Shalom Wahat El Salam has a guesthouse and I want to encourage Muslims to go and visit. They have a school in the community, which is a great thing. However, I have concern that the majority of the children were from families outside the community. It reminded me of Catholic schools in D.C., which also have a majority of their students from outside their community. This has made them loose the focus and values of their schools’ mission. I can see this happening if Neve Shalom Wahat El-Salam doesn’t have enough students from their community enrolled in the school; therefore they may loose the focus of their mission.
The community also has a spiritual center and a place for silence. A place that is very needed, as the Quran says it is important to reflect. We as a group were blessed to plant a tree on the community grounds. It will be interesting to see as the Neve Shalom Wahat El Salam develops and this interfaith group develops that we grow along with the tree.
The bottom line is that if there are more efforts like this, especially with families, then why cannot the future hold a resolution.
The reform synagogue in Modin
Later in the day we visited Rabbi Nir Barken, I was impressed with his leadership. Having been there for six years, I thought his emphasis was on education and community development. I feel close to that because those were my emphasis in Masjid Muhammad. Even while we were there, students and children were getting tutored. The atmosphere was alive and productive.
Also, we were at the community center which is a vital part of the community life and not far away from there was their school where students were playing soccer on the field.
Rabbi Barkan encouraged dialogue with fellow Jews and Muslims and he felt that this was the way to make progress in building relationships. He told us that his synagogue was the second largest reform community in the country. I got a sense that he had a plan that was responsible for his success. He stated that when he spoke to his students that morning he used a text from the scriptures about relationship with strangers and the importance of treating them well. He indicated that if this message continues with the students he was speaking to, their frame of mind would be more about togetherness and not divisiveness.
Rabbi Barken is quite learned man and told us that his son is also learning Arabic at his insistence. I saw much hope in seeing a leader of his caliber planting seeds for better tomorrow.
Blog Post #1: January 18, 2011
Imam Yusuf Saleem Reflections, Tuesday (transcribed by Becca Farber)
Al-Aqsa Mosque- If my members were able to come to the Al-Aqsa Mosque they would feel quite blessed and privileged to complete the requirements of our religion. They don’t have the opportunity to leave America (except for Hajj) because of economic struggles. The Muslims here appreciate our support in coming to visit them in Jerusalem. One item I’m going to encourage the believers back home is to look into coming to Jerusalem to visit the Mosque. Particularly the young, so that they don’t have the same limited view that we had growing up that it’s “over there”. It was magnificent to see the history of the Mosque. I had the opportunity to make Salaat (formal ritualistic prayer) under the rock. Like many believers I wanted to know what was inside- so did my fellow travelers. There were women and men inside all making their prayers to God. The size of the rock was impressive. I had no idea a rock of that proportion was inside the Mosque.
When I prayed I prayed for my mother and father who are not Muslim, they are Christian. I know that my going to Jerusalem was something that my father would have treasured. My parents, Masjid Muhammad, and the members of the church are responsible for my character. It’s an experience that I will never forget. I was not originally in the plan to attend this trip. I see this as part of the plan of God to make it possible for me to attend.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher- I was very impressed with the architecture there and the rituals that I expected to see. Watching the emotions expressed by the Christians I was able to empathize with them. As a convert, I was also able to relate to the importance of these sites- I read all about them as a Christian and also now as a Muslim.
Old City- Throughout the Old City we saw alleyways filled with merchants. We saw all their craftsmanship and all the sections for each people, all selling together in one small space. I am thankful to God that they had the state of mind to preserve much of the culture and important artifacts of the Old City.
Western Wall- I was shocked to see the closeness between the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It showed the real challenge of the friction between the religions. I went to the wall and wrote my note and inserted it in between the rocks of the wall, like the Jews do. Most American Muslims don’t see taking a trip to Jerusalem as a Muslim and going to the Western Wall, that’s not a priority when we come to the Holy Land. We think of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and there’s no real drive to make a Dua (supplication) to God at the Wall. I took pictures, though, and I was impressed with the sincerity. Today we need the prayers from the babies to the seniors. It was quite touching to have that opportunity.
Sabeel (Reverend Naim Ateek, Director)- We visited Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an organization working for peace and justice in the land. I was moved by the concepts being offered in the articles in their quarterly publication, called Cornerstone. What impressed me most was the title. When I saw it, it just floored me, “The Changing Theological Landscape”. So did the title of the first article, “At The Threshold of New Theological Thinking”. Sabeel emphasizes the challenges here in the Middle East with Palestine and Israel. I can see this same challenge all over the world. I converted from Christianity to Islam I don’t see my conversion as anti-Christianity. My soul is at ease and at peace in terms of how to conduct my life as a Muslim. My father, a Christian minister, at a conference at Howard University, said he had never seen me happier in my life than when I became a Muslim.
I plan on becoming a subscriber to Sabeel. I pray to God that their session in Bethlehem “Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness, and Resistance” is successful. We, as Americans, are still in that empire mindset. I hear the concept of “one world order”- but this doesn’t come through man, it comes through God. Reverend Ateek presented the posture of the Palestinians and the posture of Israel as a religious division, but I see politics and religion as one. I don’t think a separation of Church and state very clearly is possible. I have an interest in advancing a relationship with Reverend Naim Ateek.
Imam of the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Yousef Abu Sneineh)- What impressed me was that he spoke universally instead of about local issues. He spoke of universal principles of love and morality and of right and wrong.
Rabbis for Human Rights (Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann, Manager Occupied Territories)- I was impressed with the commitment and dedication to a cause that seems to have impossible challenges. His said that his motivation came in part from his parents, who are survivors of the Holocaust. I salute him and his efforts.