By Lomi Kriel
May 8, 2012
Over the past several months, frequenters of the Main Center mosque at the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, the nation's largest Islamic community organization, have reported strange, slightly paranoid and often incoherent sermons from their head imam.
In April, for instance, leading Friday prayers in front of hundreds of Muslims, Omar Inshanally warned against a "global population reduction plan" and the dumping of fluoride, Prozac and lithium in the water "to control populations," according to Aziz Gilani, a 31-year-old venture capitalist in attendance.
Shocked and disturbed that his top imam was offering views Gilani regarded as "obviously fringe," he recorded part of the sermon and emailed the organization to complain, noting Inshanally's sermon or khutba, "comes in a long series of khutbas that make me very concerned."
Inshanally himself responded, defending his viewpoints in a long email, noting, "EVERY PROPHET faced the accusation that he was MAD."
Rather than accept the teachings of their imam in public and quietly disagree, as is traditional, several young Muslims complained. Others switched mosques. Last Ramadan, there was talk of a petition against 57-year-old Inshanally. The reaction, experts say, mirrors a trend across the country where young Muslims increasingly are speaking out against perceived blots in their community.
"People are allowed to have unusual beliefs," Gilani said. "But when he speaks for Houston Muslims, saying the government and non-Muslims are doing things they're clearly not, we would hate for people to think that's what the normal Houston Muslim thinks."
Growing up in the shadow of 9/11, with the hate crimes and stereotypes that followed, young Muslims in particular are intensely aware of how their faith is regarded by outsiders and feel a need to self-police their own community, experts say.
"They went from being this hidden minority group to being a group where their every movement was scrutinized," said Lori Peek, a sociologist at Colorado State University and author of "Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans after 9/11." In her study of young Muslims, Peek found many recoiled at first, keeping a low profile. Some even rejected their faith.
But then increasingly, they galvanized, she said, seeking to reclaim Islam's image in America, correct misconceptions about their faith and root out bad apples in their community. Forty percent of suspected foiled domestic terror plots since 9/11 were brought to the attention of authorities by Muslims, according to a February study by The Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security in North Carolina.
Peek said young Muslims are saying, "If people are going to be policing our actions, we have to turn inwards and police our own community. It's the only way we can ever fight back against these stereotypes.'"
In Houston, Sameer Soleja, a 31-year-old software entrepreneur, attends the Main Center mosque near West Alabama Street and Kirby Drive several times a month but avoids Inshanally's sermons, about which he has complained.
Saleha Rehman, a dentist who works downtown, called Inshanally's sermons "very skeptical and paranoid kind of talk, 'People are spying on you and people are against you' … they are putting stuff in the water."
In fact, they made Rehman, a 30-year-old Houston native, so uncomfortable that she decided to change mosques and now makes the longer commute to one on Almeda.
Certainly, Inshanally's sermons are not anti-American; indeed, it was he who helped pioneer a YouTube video channel to coincide with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, reaching out to Muslim youth vulnerable to extremism.
Rather, they reflect a rambling sort of paranoia. In emailed defenses of his sermons, he rails against a "global population reduction plan advocat(ing) mass sterilization and the murder ('abortion') of infants up to three-years-old." He notes, "cities all across the United States and Canada are banning fluoridating of drinking water."
Inshanally did not return messages. Aziz Siddiqi, president of the organization, said, "You're not going to hear that anymore. We talked with him, and we told him he should not be discussing any of those things."
He said Inshanally, who has a master's degree in science education and worked as a software engineer at Compaq, was "just citing certain theories he read on the Internet."
The Guyana native, who has been in Houston since 1999, has previously faced backlash at mosques in New York and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Siddiqi said Inshanally is unfairly targeted because of his aggressive preaching style, insisting, "He's the most qualified person for the job."
Still, the complaints against him reflect a trend experts say is unfolding across the nation as younger Muslim-Americans identify less with immigrant imams. Such a culture clash is natural, said Mustafa Carroll, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations' Houston chapter.
"What they consider to be very religious versus what a younger person growing up in America considers to be very religious is probably very different," he said.
Source: The Chron United States