When he first arrived in Grand Rapids in July of 2001, there was only one mosque in the city, and he was to be the imam. Dr. Sahibzada remains the imam of the Islamic Center of West Michigan, but the burgeoning Muslim community of Grand Rapids now comprises five mosques and a community that is typical for the United States, with at least a dozen countries easily represented–a world tour on display in every mosque.
At first, he explains, the mosque had been largely built and established by people from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Now, people from around the world go to the mosque–Sudanese, Somalis, and others– â€œa tour of the world, a mixed gathering.â€
The new imam had come from a successful academic career–a teacher of Arabic. â€œNot a hafiz, but a scholar, an expert, a professor at the International Islamic University Islamabad,â€ he explains.
Dr. Sahibzada also studied in England to get his Ph.D. at the University of Leeds.
Since those early days the imam explains that he has introduced Islam to more people than he can easily count. He gives copies of the Qur`an, in English, to those who ask.
He has a hectic schedule of travelling in order to speak about Islam and Muslims–â€Monday I was in Travers City, a three hour drive–they invited me to speak at their Martin Luther King celebration, I presented Islam as well.
Nowadays as the overall community has branched to so many different mosques, Friday prayers at his mosque usually include about 100 worshippers.
Dr. Sahibzada notes that the people in the US are somewhat different than those in England.
â€œIn England, the people have been much involved with Muslims, they had knowledge of Islam, in India, Pakistan–they knew the traditions, they were more tolerant. Americans, the public is very open and broad minded but they donâ€™t have any knowledge of Islam.â€
For example, â€œonce a person came to interview me from TV, and he asked me at the end of the interview â€˜who is Allahâ€™.â€
The US Muslim community is divided by their levels of education, he explains. Those people who are not educated tend to be from villages–their Islam is the traditional one from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh. They are more insular, their approach is totally different.
The professionals and educated people, he explains, are mixed with Americans. They are more liberal, they follow the understanding of Islam that they understand themselves–â€œThey donâ€™t follow any scholar, they are liberal.â€
But the work continues at the mosque, with new people coming in all the time to ask about Islam â€œThey donâ€™t have any knowledge about Islam,â€ he says.
The imam speaks glowingly of his most recent convert prospect–â€œa girl she came and 99% she is interested to convert. Some time she will convert–over the years a lot of people came to convert. I donâ€™t count, I donâ€™t keep a record.â€