Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Becoming Imam Amin

When I ask to do the teacher spotlight on Imam Amin I was told that he “kept things pretty close to the chest” and may not be receptive to the idea, I prepared myself for rejection. Imam Amin responded to the idea with an unenthusiastic “Sure, why not?” as if our anxiety had been unwarranted. There is always wonder at the converts story. How someone leaves their faith and enters in to another is an impassioned journey, highly emotional and often misunderstood by those around them. What’s more then that is entering the faith and becoming one of its elites. Anyone who ever comes to Mecca Center knows Imam Amin. His classes and lectures are often filled with students seeking knowledge of their religion. Many people will find Imam Amin not only as a teacher of immense intelligence and wisdom but often a sincere advisor.
Sitting in Imam Amin’s last day of hadith class I could sense the students hesitation to leave. When the time for class ended Imam Amin gave his departing words, heroically he ended the last class with the quintessential hadith of Gabriel. “Hadith Gabriel is the summary of our religion, it is to hadith what The Opening is to the Quran, it is the mother of hadith”, he relates. Imam Amin smiles as he continues to explain the hadith “I actually didn’t plan this ending”.
I wondered if he would say the same thing about his life? As a man born into non-religious family, he was now standing before a class of both converts and born- Muslims explaining to them the basics of their religion. Imam Amin was born in in the 1970’s in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the age of 10 he joined an organization called ‘AnsarAllah’ until entering orthodox Islam at the age of 17. He says of the group in retrospect, “They had some positive things as far as social movement and other cultural stuff but as far the tenets of Islamic faith… they were misguided in many of their beliefs…” At the time many is his community had taken to Islam, so there was no backlash from peers about his conversion, but his parents weren’t as accepting, he recalls, “They weren’t supportive, they really weren’t… it took them probably eight yeas before they began to accept”. As a youth he remembers seeing his parents frustrations as a sign that he was on the right path, he says of his young self “Actual I think I was a little bit too enthused if I could go back today I would correct a lot of things”
            At the age of seventeen he started studying the basics of Islam with a local Indian Imam, they spent about 6 months together. Being an avid reader this traditional method of “Qira’a” translated in English to “reading on the teacher” greatly appealed to him, at the age of 19 he left his home to attend Al Azhaar in Egypt. He attended school there until being advised to study privately. “I would have classes in the morning I studied Arabic then I would go in the afternoon… I would get lessons in the Mosque… it was much better then going to school…I started travelling from Lebanon to Syria…it was better… I would be going for specific things… to see a specific teacher for a specific time.” Worldly pursuits through religious knowledge were far from his ambitions. He returned home to America working in construction and studying by night. “Our teachers never taught us to take religion as an occupation”, for 10 years he learned with Walid al Risa’I and Shaykh Al- Ashi, in the summers he would visit various countries.
He was soon called to be Imam of Masjid Muhammad, the community had been an offshoot of another pseudo Islamic movement, Imam Amin soon removed all traces of anything that wasn’t Sunni Islam. He faced tension from the community and some members left. It would not be the first or last time the Imam faced criticism for his adherence to the tradition. On one of his Sheikhs visit to America some of his students complained about Imam Amin, “he’s rough on everybody”, his Sheikh approached him about the complaints. He sat him down and showed him some videos, which he’d previously, criticized, “yes, you should criticize them about this” his Sheikh responded.
Perhaps Imam Amin is both famous and infamous for his adherence to traditional Islam, perhaps it is the source of both love and disdain. Nevertheless it is his love for traditional Islam that drove him to Mecca for six years without recompense. Back and forth from Atlantic City to New York, mile after mile for nothing except the love of Islam, for no other reason then the pleasure of Allah. It was at the age of 27 that he knew the call to traditional Islam was his purpose in life “I really realized… after 10 years from my pursuit of study I think that at that point I realized that my job is to call people to Allah… from that point on that’s what I dedicated my life to… about fifteen year ago I said this is what I want to do… full time this is my life… from that point on I’ve been really engaged in the pursuit of knowledge and the spreading of it”
After Imam Amin became the Imam of Masjid Muhammad it became not only a place for Friday gathering, it also become a place of Islamic learning. It was this Masjid that would be the source of his tears as he stared upon its broken roof and bare floors; it was torn apart by the waters of Hurricane Sandy. “I was hurt… I realized everything is according to the divine decree of Allah for a wisdom He knows”. It seems difficult to gage Imam Amin’s sadness over his complete contentment with divine decree, “(it) feels like Allah has given you another opportunity to build a place of worship, a Masjid and a place of learning that people would benefit… (it) gives you the opportunity to be at the forefront of building His religion”.
I’ve never been to a class or lecture of Imam Amin where he didn’t stress the importance of orthodox Islam, whether Islamic beliefs, Islamic law, Prophetic Biography, Hadith, Explanation of the Quran or Spiritual purification he’d always spend a portion of class time on the significance of following “Ahl Sunna wal Jamaa’a”. Translated in English as the following of the prophetic way and the majority of Muslims both past and present, this seemed to be the main point of each class he teaches, no matter the topic, this was his message. “If one becomes engrossed in studying and one has a love for Islamic knowledge and one has a love for the people of knowledge then what your going to do is emulate them until one day Insha Allah you will become like them or similar to them in your action and behavior which is a natural progression…”

Imam teaches classes on Sundays at the Mecca Center from11am- 5pm. To donate to Masjid Muhammad please visit:

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