The leader of region's largest mosque is leaving to start a seminary
By MARC PARRY, Staff writer, timesunion.com
COLONIE — The end of Ramadan this weekend will be a time of shared gifts and celebration. For the popular leader of the region's largest mosque, it also will be a time to say farewell.
Imam Ahmed Kobeisy is leaving his Colonie mosque at the end of the month to establish an Islamic seminary based in New York. It's an effort to build the infrastructure for educating the next generation of Muslim-American leaders. Right now, the expanding U.S. Muslim population often depends on imams educated abroad.
Kobeisy, 50, arrived in the Capital Region from Syracuse three years ago. The Saudi Arabia-born imam has since become the area's most visible Islamic leader, winning admirers for opening the Islamic Center of the Capital District to other faith groups, government officials, activists, teachers and the media.
Within his mosque, Kobeisy is a father figure known for a willingness to share his cellphone number and an approach to Islam that is, like his business suits, practical. He teaches Muslims, leads them in prayers, counsels them, marries them, visits them in hospitals and advocates for their rights with employers and teachers.
Some have cried in Kobeisy's office since the imam announced his plans
to leave the nearly 500-member mosque on Lansing Road off Central
Avenue. One active member, Maliha Nazeer, said that with Kobeisy's
outreach "we became more mainstream in society."
"He empowered us to go out there and tell people what Islam is," added
Nazeer, 43, an East Greenbush homemaker. "All of a sudden we were the
faces of Islam, not some leader someplace in some other country."
This career change is something of a gamble for an Islamic leader who
has carved out a unique career since coming to the United States at 28.
Kobeisy, who already had earned a degree abroad in Islamic studies,
built on that foundation with a master's in counseling and a doctorate
in social sciences, both from Syracuse University. He wrote a book
about counseling U.S. Muslims. He is a chaplain at Syracuse. He teaches
at Le Moyne College.
His office in Colonie could be a lawyer's, with its broad, glass-topped
desk, and its shelves of gold- and silver-embossed books. Except the
jurisprudence in those volumes is Islamic. And, in keeping with mosque
etiquette, the imam in the gray suit isn't wearing any shoes.
"I love this community, and I'm not leaving them because of looking for
another community," Kobeisy said. "No, I'm just looking to do something
that is not done, and has not been done — and that must be done."
The need, Kobeisy said, is for a school both steeped in Islamic
tradition and American culture; one that will turn out leaders
comfortable with both the Quran and the Constitution. Kobeisy will
become director of the Islamic Learning Foundation — a branch of the
Islamic Circle of North America — and he hopes to reinvent the
foundation to fill that gap.
Its classes will take place mainly at night and on weekends to
accommodate working students. The plan is to eventually offer
bachelor's degrees and programs around the nation. It will prepare
young Muslims to work as imams and chaplains in America.
"You could memorize the Quran, but you don't really know the Quran
until you know how it applies in the context in which you live,"
An imam with experience working in the United States is what the
Islamic Center seeks in its next leader, said mosque president Tariq
Niazi. That person will take over a 28-year-old mosque with members
from Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Middle East, North
Africa and the United States.
"It's difficult, because there are not that many candidates, especially if you are not reaching out abroad," Niazi said.
The Rev. James Kane, the official in charge of interfaith affairs for
the Albany Catholic Diocese, appreciated Kobeisy's effort to reach out
after the Pope made controversial remarks about Muslims last year. At
Kobeisy's invitation, Bishop Howard Hubbard spoke at the mosque.
"That certainly was a first," Kane said.
Marc Parry can be reached at 454-5057 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
taken from: source