I’m originally from New York and now I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. I have a wife who I adore, and six children who are my life.
I describe myself as just a white guy from Manhattan. I don’t think I’m religious because religious (to me) usually means judgmental… And I don’t really consider myself to be an activist because I just think these are the things we should be doing. So it’s not activism – it’s just being a good human being.
My number one concern right now is the dehumanization of other people - on all sides. It’s led to a complex of such selfishness and greed that not only do I not care if my neighbor is hungry, I’m only satisfied if I’m fed AND taking her or his share of resources as well.
I find a lot of things problematic; the environment, the way we’re dealing with police brutality, the rise of white supremacy, Islamaphobia, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBT rhetoric – there’s a lot of anti-everything. But my biggest concern is that we dehumanize each other. We should spread more love and compassion.
I don’t think I’d be a person who creates community or thinks about inequity in the world if it wasn’t for my religion. Because I wasn’t before I became Muslim.
Islam teaches us to take care of those who are less fortunate than us, teaches us to help those who need the most help – to look out on the fringes of society and to make sure they’re okay: That they’re fed, that they’re warm, that they’re loved. And that dictates every facet of my life, in everything I do.
I didn’t set out to be an Imam as much as I just wanted to learn my religion fully - to completely understand it and then come home and demystify it for people. But then people kept asking me to do stuff. And I kept saying no. Then finally I gave one sermon and that lead into a full time job so it was completely by accident that I became an Imam. I just really wanted to be able to express what my religion teaches to people so it’s not so… It’s not so different, not foreign – it’s the same. Just a continuation of thought.
The future I would love to see for my children is a world - not just a country, but a world - in which everyone is fed, everyone has a home, everyone has clothes, everyone has love in their life.
Where everyone has hopes and dreams but also the reality finding these hopes and dreams.
I would love to see a world where there’s no more war, there’s no more famine, there’s no more racism, there’s no more intellectual bullying of each other. I would love to see a world where the kingdom of God is established here. Where people are actually doing what God commands of us. Because in every religion God commands us to take care of the poor and to love our neighbor. God commands us to spread love not hate and not injustice.
ON WORKING FOR CHANGE
The Clifton Mosque, where I work, was the first mosque in America to declare ourselves a sanctuary congregation. The first mosque to work with Black Lives Matter, to send people and resources out to Standing Rock, and to stand up against the murder of Sam Debose by police here in Cincinnati.
Friends and I pulled together a vigil for the victims of Orlando shooting and more than 700 hundred people came.
We really tried to be that change that we want to see.
We’ve seen small victories, but while families are still being separated by deportation, we’ve not done enough.
In the interfaith world we still have to love each other. We still have to create real relationships - not fragile ones, like glass bridges over volcanoes. We must have real relationships.
Like the relationships I’ve been able to build with Black Lives Matter here in Cincinnati. I married two of them, and they were non-Muslim. But I had the privilege of doing their wedding because we’ve developed a real friendship.
ON UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
I thought I knew and understood love. But when I had my daughter, Laila, I experienced unconditional love.
And then I thought to myself, ‘Well, I want to experience unconditional love with everybody.
So my idea of building community is to have unconditional love with everybody, which has allowed us to really grow our community here.
But it’s also made me really have to look at what I think… As a Muslim, as a man, as an American, as all of these filters of who I think I am. What would I do one of my children wasn’t Muslim? Well , I would love my child. What would I do if one of my children came to me and told me they were part of the LGBTQ community? Well, I would love my child.
Unconditional means unconditional. I’ve experienced love with conditions, and that doesn’t help people grow. But what does, is love without conditions; as God’s love is unconditional.
We need to be reflections of this kind of love in the world – to actually build the kingdom of God on this planet. So I try to work from that sphere with everybody. And that helps build community.