CAIRO - Addressing an ethnically diverse community in a city with a history rich in interfaith work, the appointment of imam William Suhaib Webb came to answer the needs of New England's biggest mosque with a more inclusive message of unity and understanding.
He's ushering in a new era in the Muslim community of young imams who have knowledge of classical Islamic scholarship, but who are born in America and familiar with American life, and who are able to connect with the youth,'' Safaa Zarzour, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, told the Boston Globe on Saturday, December 3.
Webb, 38, converted to Islam in the early 90th when he was 20 after reading a copy of the holy Qur'an from his local library and study of faith for three years.
He then studied under a Senegalese sheik in Oklahoma and later became imam at a local mosque there.
From 2004 to 2010, he studied at Cairo's Shari`ah College of Al-Azhar University, where he graduated with multiple certificates in Islamic sciences, qualifying him to preach and teach.
Returning from Cairo, he preached at several mosques at San Francisco as he established suhaibwebb.com, a virtual mosque'' that showcases writings from him and about 20 Muslim scholars.
Searching for an imam over the past three years at Roxbury's Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the biggest mosque in New England, Webb was chosen by the mosque broad as fulfilling the desire of Islamic leaders nationally to dispel the perception of a rigid faith presided over by stern imams.
He started this week, and yesterday led his first Friday prayers.
Affected by his teen years, the young imam sprinkles the pop culture into his sermons, from Monday Night Football'' to the Twilight vampire romance series, a narrative that appealed to many American Muslims.
There's a huge dearth of qualified imams in this country,'' said Nancy Khalil, a board member at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center.
We wanted somebody who could relate to a diverse congregation.''
Consisting of different ethnicities, the Muslim community in the United States needed unity under the banner of Islam.
If we're able to function together to some degree, then we become like a Muslim Cheers,' ''said Webb, who is married to a Malaysian-born Muslim and has two children, ages 10 and 8.
If we can acknowledge that we have certain differences, even religiously, then we'll be able to develop as a community.''
Webb added that his studies at Al-Azhar university does not mean that Islam imported from traditionally Muslim countries is not superior to the faith as it exists in the United States.
Webb found that true Islam encourages US Muslim youth to be comfortable with their American roots.
It also considers culture and customs in its interpretations.
We represent a different group of brothers and sisters now who are born in America, who went overseas to study for a number of years and realize that everything overseas isn't necessarily right,'' said Webb, who can seamlessly switch from English to Arabic.
I don't have to be an Arab or a Pakistani to authenticate my Islam.''
Last year, Webb was named in 2010 by an Islamic think-tank as one of the 500 "Most Influential Muslims in the World" for his work with youth over the last decade.
He is also a defendant of women's rights and religious community involvement.
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.