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U.S. News
Farooq Hussaini: Oakland Islamic Center leader

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Farooq Hussaini's life divides starkly into the 43 years before 9/11 and the one year since.

What hasn't changed is his devotion to building understanding among Christians, Jews and Muslims. What changed forever was the urgency of the task.

In the past year, Farooq Hussaini has spent countless afternoons and evenings speaking to groups that want to know more about Islam. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

For months he didn't have a Saturday or Sunday free as he filled requests from churches, synagogues and civic groups to speak on Islam.

"The sad part, that hurts me so much, is that I saw Islam as a beautiful religion. I saw my parents forgiving and caring and sharing" because of their faith. "Before Sept. 11, it was this beauty that I was discussing. After Sept. 11 ... I am faced with a situation where people think I follow an ugly religion," said Hussaini, the volunteer director of interfaith relations for the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh.

"Farooq has been heroic," said Rabbi James Gibson of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, who considers Hussaini a close friend. "There is no doubt in my mind that there is less tension between our communities and more understanding because of Farooq Hussaini."

Hussaini's devotion to interfaith understanding began in his native India, where his father sought equality for the persecuted Muslim minority. His parents taught him not to blame the Hindu faith, but to see that some power-hungry people twisted it for selfish ends. He later spent five years in Saudi Arabia, until a 1985 visit to the United States, where he fell in love with a nation, and with a local woman named Karen.

They married in 1986. Today he is assistant director of finance and information systems for the Carnegie Museums and Library.

When Hussaini chose to stay in the United States, his father urged him to promote interfaith understanding and respect.

The initial response of his fellow Muslims to that mission was not enthusiastic, he said. It seemed frivolous to them to explain Islam to Christians and Jews when it was all they could do to teach it to their own children. It might create tensions if people thought Muslims were trying to proselytize.

Then everything changed. "Sept. 11 happened. I was numb," he said.

The requests to speak poured in. There was no more doubt in the Islamic community about the importance of his work. But now he also had a message to Muslims.

"I told them, this is because of you," he said of the deluge of questions about whether Islam really promised mass murderers a paradise filled with virgins. "Because you didn't tell them who you are, now you are all lumped together" with the terrorists.

It is the responsibility of Muslims to clean their own house of extremists, he said. Most Muslims "are very calm, relaxed people. They don't talk about extreme views. But when the extremists talked, they shouted. It was like one lion roaring and 200 cats going meow, meow."

What few know is that Hussaini has received kidney dialysis three times a week since 1993. Two transplants have failed.

Today Hussaini will offer a prayer at the noontime memorial service in Market Square. Later he will undergo dialysis.

"Dialysis gives me a lot of time to think. I can contemplate life and the beauty of life. I can cry alone when there is no one to look. I can pray alone," he said.

"I keep telling myself yes, you have a physical ailment, but you should never have a spiritual ailment. You should never hate anybody ... So I think I am going to contemplate a lot on Sept. 11. Life has changed. The innocence is gone."

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