This Osama preaches peace
FISHERS, Ind. — He preaches about the need for harmony with Jews and Christians, and in conversation, he talks about how, in so many ways, America is an ideal place for Muslims to live and practice their faith.
Osama Saad, the relatively new imam at the mosque in Fishers, looks at the world through a different prism than the man who shares his first name and is the most notorious criminal in the world.
Saad (pronounced sod) tells his congregation at the Al-Huda mosque, on Lantern Road just north of 116th Street, that pure Islam is a faith that does not demand conversion from the rest of the world, that speaks of people from other faiths as “our brothers in humanity” and that treats women as equals.
“It is not careless. It is not excessive,” Saad said. Most of all, he said, it is moderate. “This religion is strong but not rigid.”
Saad, 34, sounds as if he is not only preaching to his followers but also trying to reassure visitors encountering an imam named Osama for the first time that he is everything al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is not: peaceful and reasonable.
In conversation later, Saad noted that the name Osama is about as common in the Arab world as John is among Christians.
More important, he said, “the vice is not in the name” but in the actions of bin Laden, who forever defined the name to so many Americans.
Mosque members such as Salah Elsaharty, who are glad to have the imam aboard, are careful in making introductions to stress that their Osama is a man of peace who appreciates people of other faiths.
And so far, a year after he moved here from Egypt, Saad said he has been treated only respectfully by people in Fishers, at least what he has encountered of the town during activities such as playing soccer in a local park and eating lunch regularly at the local Steak n Shake.
Strangers have complimented his wife, Moshira, in public for the beauty of the hijab that covers her head or for her long, flowing garb.
On the sidewalk in his neighborhood, on his way home from the mosque, adults smile and the children they pull in red wagons offer a friendly hello, unbothered by his white skull cap or his long, flowing scholar”s robe.
To Saad, everything is as it should be.
To be sure, his journey to Fishers was an unlikely one.
Saad is the son of a scholar at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, among the most prestigious schools in Islam and an institution with a history that dates back more than 1,000 years. He followed his father there and received degrees in Islamic creed and philosophy.
Like many corners of the Muslim world, Al-Azhar hasn”t been immune to the strife between moderates and extremists. Saad said scholars at the university condemned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and that moderates prevail there. But Al-Azhar has had anti-American protests, including some inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party with a history of violence.
Saad, the first imam at Al-Huda, heard about the job through a friend who had preceded him from Egypt. Saad has brought the mosque a special talent that is somewhat rare in America: the ability to recite the Quran from memory at nightly services during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Each night, he recites one-thirtieth of the Quran, so that over the course of the month, faithful attendees hear the book in its entirety.
“The recitation is very good. He knows the meanings. He helps the community understand,” said Jay Sayyah, a member of the mosque.
Although he speaks very little English — he often relies on an interpreter, and someone translates his Friday speeches at the mosque after he delivers them in Arabic — he and his family seem to be settling in. For people who had never seen snow, last winter was a bear.
His sons, Ahmed, 7, and Mohammed, 6, sleep in twin beds with Pokemon sheets. And his daughter, Maram, 2, likes to wear pastel dresses and shiny earrings.
Saad said he wants to help the mosque and school grow. But another high priority is learning English, to bring down any barriers that might remain between the people in Fishers and an imam named Osama.