Blog critics force imam to resign from Ohio mosque

PARMA, Ohio—An imam who was to become the new spiritual leader of Ohio’s largest mosque resigned because of allegations by bloggers that he is anti-Semitic, he said.

Imam Ahmed Alzaree said the Web postings so poisoned the atmosphere in the community that he and his wife, Marwa, decided to look elsewhere.

“Cleveland now is a nightmare for her,” Alzaree said yesterday, three days before he was to start at the Islamic Center of Cleveland in suburban Parma. “It will never be a good start for me and the Jewish community.”

Alzaree, 38, an Egyptian-born cleric, was to be the mosque’s first permanent imam since Fawaz Damra, who was deported in January after a 1991 videotape surfaced showing him disparaging Jews and raising money for the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.

Damra apologized and said his views had changed but was shunned by the interfaith leaders who once worked with him.

Alzaree, who previously led a mosque in Omaha, Neb., said bloggers such as Central Ohioans Against Terrorism and Jihad Watch continued to attack him for a 2003 sermon in which he referenced the Hadiths, a collection of Prophet Muhammad’s sayings.

“The hour of judgment shall not happen until the Muslims fight the Jews,” the sermon quotes a Hadith. “The Muslims shall kill the Jews to the point that the Jew shall hide behind a big rock or a tree.”

Alzaree has said the sermon gave many examples of Islamic teaching on the Day of Judgment and that it is clear that Muslims in the present are required to “strive and struggle in the world doing the good.”

Bloggers also attacked him for an appearance at the Omaha mosque by Wagdy Ghoneim, an Egyptian and former imam at the Islamic Institute of Orange County in California who was forced to leave the United States in 2005 because of immigration violations.

Ghoneim had come to the attention of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, which believed his speeches could be considered supportive of terrorist organizations.

Alzaree said it was the administration of the Omaha mosque that had invited Ghoneim to speak.

Leaders of the Ohio mosque said they investigated Alzaree’s background and that a major reason they hired him was his commitment to interfaith work. And just last week, Alzaree said he still planned to come to Ohio and make an extra effort to reach out to Jewish and Christian leaders.

But Alzaree said bloggers made it impossible for him to have a good beginning.

“I leave the field” to the bloggers, he said. “I have peace now.” Alzaree said he will decide among a half-dozen other job offers.

Zahid Siddiqi, general secretary of the Ohio mosque, said the Islamic Center would accept Alzaree’s resignation. “We certainly don’t want to impose on him and his family,” Siddiqi said.

The mosque will resume its search for an imam, said Zuhair Hasan, the new mosque president.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday October 30, 2007.
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