Islamic Imam

Omar Shahin, 40, is the Imam and director of the Islamic Center of Tucson, located at 901 E. First St., next to the UA. He's lived in Tucson for three years. A native of Jordan, he also serves as the president of the UA's University Religious Council.

Tell me about the Islamic Center of Tucson.

This is the only true Islamic center in Tucson to represent Muslims. There are 8-10,000 Muslims in Tucson. We have a full-time school up to the eighth grade. Most of the Muslim community here is made up of educators and students, with some business people. Our policy is, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." We're open-minded. We reach out and have good relations with all people of faith. All the Muslims in Tucson--we respect this city and we love this country.

What other things does the Islamic Center of Tucson do?

First of all, we pray five times a day. We're open every day. We have the main service on Friday, and we have Arabic classes, for free, for Muslims and non-Muslims. We also have classes for non-Muslims who are interested in learning about Islam. There are also classes for new converts--we have about two new converts a month--to teach them about Islam. We are involved in multi-faith activities. Personally, I am the president of the University Religious Council and am a member of the multi-faith alliance. We have open houses. For anyone who has any concerns or questions, my office is open and my heart is open. We welcome anybody.

Do many people come by with concerns or questions?

Yes, especially after Sept. 11. Almost daily, we have one or two or three people asking about Islam, wanting books, brochures and pamphlets.

Has anything changed in the community since the buildup to war started?

Unfortunately, yes. We live in a very safe city, but at the same time, there are people here and there who don't want to understand us or communicate with us. There have been four incidents so far that have been reported to police by myself, but I am sure many more have not been reported to the police. They've been insults to sisters or brothers or students, like "Go back to Iraq!" All of (the victims) have not been Arabs, by the way.

Has the center taken a position on the war?

Under any circumstances, killing any person in our global village--regardless of faith, nationality or skin color--Islam is against that. At the same time, we do not support Saddam Hussein, and we are not against George Bush. We support peace and justice for all humans in this global village. All Muslims believe in this, but unfortunately, some people, they don't want to hear our point of view.

Let's say someone who is upset about Sept. 11, and blames Islam for what happened, comes to you. How do you communicate with him?

I receive him with a smile and invite him to sit down and calm down. Then, I tell him that you are angry, and I am angry, too, because killing innocent people--all human beings--is against Islam, like any other religion based on peace, love, forgiveness, truthfulness and self-control. Yes, we are angry. It's OK to be angry, but you have to get angry with the right person, to the right degree, in the right way for the right purpose. We should control ourselves and not point fingers and affect other people. At the same time, I would show them what the Quran says about killing human beings. It's Chapter 5, Verse 32. What it says is very clear: Whoever kills one human being, he looks like he killed all of humanity, and whoever saves one person's life, he saves all of humanity.

I see.

Also, I'd mention how Islam commands us to take care of animals, not just humans. There's the story of the prostitute woman. She saw a thirsty dog running around, and she provided the dog with water, using her shoes as a container. The law revealed through Allah was that He forgave all her sins for that. That's what Islam is about.

How does such an approach work?

Many of them have become close friends of mine. Unfortunately, the media gives a bad image of Muslims and Islam. The media drives them crazy and warns them against us. Thank God, once they sit down and understand me, my faith and Islam, they love it. They are very helpful to the community after that. Education is the answer. Not war, not hate--education is the answer to all our problems and all our conflicts in this small global village.