Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Feature: Imam Tahir

On a busy downtown San Jose street lined with Victorian houses it is easy to miss the white, one-story building with the sign “Islamic Association.” But for Imam Thair Anwar(cq), the building at 325 N. Third St. (cq) is the center of his life.

Not only did he grow up at the mosque under the spiritual guidance of his father, Mohammad Anwar(cq), this is now his perch for spreading Islam in the South Bay and all over the world.

“I had the greatest advantage that I was able to watch my dad as an Imam,” the 29-year-old, Anwar (cq) said. “It is wonderful to have the ability to be there for people in need and to inspire.”

The South Bay Islamic Association is also the place where Anwar (cq) tries to educate those outside the Muslim community and counter common stereotypes about his faith in a country in which views are often hostile, especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“It is normal to be wary about certain people, but the stereotyping about Muslim terrorist has to stop,’’ he said. “Most Muslims have lived in the U.S. their whole lives.’’

Anwar(cq) does different types of outreach work. He ministers to prisoners and is looking to set up mosques in places that need it the most. He takes a group to Saudi Arabia every other year, and he has been featured in national news outlets. He uses his platform to speak about practices and beliefs that seem to counter western culture, including the role of women.

“Most women who want to be submissive have been raised to think that way and are ashamed to betray those culture values,” said a spokes person from Feminist Majority (cq), a feminist organization.

But Anwar (cq) says Muslim men do not force women into a submissive role.

“In my relationship, I chose her (my wife) because she was covered and wanted to take care of the children and did not want to work,” he said. “There are some women who don’t feel comfortable without a veil and taking the responsibility of working.”

While the job can be tough, Anwar says he does it to honor his father, who is now 95 and living in India. The two speak by telephone daily. He was inspired by his father’s work because he saw how many people he touched at the mosque. Seven years ago, when he first became an imam, or Muslim spiritual leader, when he became an imam at 21 he was the youngest in the United States.

“I never thought I would make it back here to the same mosque where I was brought up,” Anwar said. (cq)

Anwar grew up in San Jose and was home-schooled by his parents.

He moved to the Bay Area in 1983 and then returned to India to receive a bachelor’s degree in Islamic Theology at Darul Uloom Falah e Darain. (cq)

During his studies, Anwar(cq) memorized the Qur’an and studied the Arabic language, including syntax, literature, etymology, translation, exegesis, the interpretation of a religious text, and elucidation of the Qur’an.

Muslims consider it an honor to memorize the Qur’an he said, and Muslims recite the entire Qur’an by memory in prayer in the month of Ramadan, which is the holy month in which Muslims fast.

“Those who memorize the Qur’an can take 10(cq) people who are destined to hell to heaven when they die,” said Anwar(cq), who has three (cq) brothers who have memorized the Qur’an as well.

The holy book is his guide, and there are certain things that women are not allowed to do according to the Qur’an, he said.

“Women can not lead prayer. It is prohibited by the faith because God made it that way,” Anwar(cq) said, “This is traditional in all faiths, you will never find a prophetess you will always find a prophet.”

Another rule that is set down by the Qur’an is that men pray in the front and women pray in the back, he explained.

Anwar (cq) explained that the men stare at the women if they are in front of them, this is part of nature, but it is distracting to the prayer.

He also recently invested in dividers to separate the men and women for more focused prayer sessions.

Anwar tries to counter other misperceptions, including that Muslims in the United States are somehow drifting from their faith.

On the contrary, Muslims are increasingly turning devout in the shadow of the war and post Sept. 11.(cq)

“World events are haunting Muslims and more people are finding faith more important,” Anwar said. “Peace and security are found in faith. Put trust in God and he will always come through.”

Anwar(cq) does not only give encouragement to Muslims in San Jose, but he also reaches out to Muslims around the world.

He speaks, reads, and writes five different languages. He began speaking his mothers tongue, Gujarati, and then he learned English in school. After he learned Urdu while learning the Qur’an, and finally by traveling he learned Arabic and Hindi.

Anwar(cq) organizes is a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia every other year.
In 2005 (cq)he was chosen by CNN as the official Muslim spokes person and was interviewed on the Hajj for that year.

“A group of 100 to 150(cq) people from my congregation usually joins me when I travel,” he said.

Mudassir Jamil (cq), a member of the Islamic Association in San Jose, said that Anwar (cq) is such a big part of the congregation and the individual people’s lives.

“He does everything he can for the people who look to him for help, everything from wedding arrangements, to party planning, to spiritual and personal guidance. He truly is one of a kind,’’ Jamil (cq) said.

Anwar (cq) not only works as an Imam, and he also teaches Islamic Studies at Granada Islamic School, in Silicon Valley, gives lectures at universities nationally, and actively pursues outreach and community service work.

In Santa Clara County Anwar (cq) works as a Muslim chaplain for prisoners at the Elmwood Correctional Facility. (cq)

“He is trying to establish religion in a place where people need it the most,” said Bob Feldman (cq), who is responsible for the correctional facilities staff.

Anwar said that he would also like to work on creating a place of worship in hospitals because people in pain turn to God

“The work that he does to bridge the gaps in Muslim communities and communities in the Bay Area are helpful,” Jamil (cq) said. “If there were more Muslims like him, I don’t think there would be as many labels on us.”

He has published a lecture and compiled a CD entitled: “Performing Hajj- A Practical Guide to the Journey of a Lifetime (cq),” about the pilgrimage, or Hajj, which is the fifth pillar of Islam.

The pillars of Islam are the basic beliefs, in that Allah and Muhammad as his prophet, in prayer, charity, fasting, and in making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

“Religion is what I live for and I love it,” said Anwar (cq). “It is the most rewarding kind of work.”

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