Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Imam led Islamic Center to distinction

Imam Abdelmoneim Mahmoud Khattab, imam emeritus of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, died of cancer yesterday in Windsor, Ont., Regional Hospital, Metropolitan Campus. He was 69.

He had homes in Perrysburg and Windsor during his 18 years as leader of the center. Named “imam emeritus” upon his 1998 retirement, he lived in Windsor, but traveled to the Perrysburg Township mosque at least once a week.

“After his loss, I feel lonely. I feel as if I lost my father,” Imam Farouq Aboelzahab, his successor as imam of the mosque, said.

“I came to learn from him - how to preach and how to be open-minded and how to talk to all people,” said Imam Aboelzahab, who studied with Imam Khattab at the mosque from 1989-1991.

Imam Khattab developed an international reputation for helping to unify the more than 22 ethnic groups that make up a membership of more than 500 families.

Known for his persuasiveness, persistence, and sense of humor, he guided the center to prominence as one of the most enlightened and forward-looking in North America.

“When he talked about Islam, he talked about Islam as a religion of love and humanity,” Imam Aboelzahab said. “He represented Islam as a religion that cares about human beings, regardless of ethnicity, national background, or religion. He committed himself to that goal.”

Imam Khattab arrived at the Islamic Center, then in North Toledo, in early 1980, several months before ground was broken for the distinctive mosque, and he guided construction of the facility.

In addition to his duties at the center, he taught Arabic at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University.

He served on many regional and national organizations, notably as secretary general of the Council of Imams of North America and as a member of the World Call Council and of the Interfaith Round Table in Michigan.

Imam Khattab was noted as an original thinker. He used the hitherto neglected tool of ijtehad - that is, the interpretation of religion according to current times - to break ground in religious thinking. At times, this approach put him at odds with traditional orthodoxy. But his knowledge of religion and the history of religious traditions and his simple approach to the practice of religion put him in the forefront of Islamic thinkers in North America.

It was decades before others accepted his interpretations on such sensitive issues as interest banking, Islamic dress code, women rights, laws of evidence, and the propriety of giving zakat, the obligatory tithe, to a mosque or an Islamic Center.

“He's done so much for Islam,” Cherrefe Kadri, president of the center, who was the first woman to hold such an office in the United States. “He never had barriers. Nobody was ever categorized. He didn't differentiate between men and women, and that came across not only in the things he said, but in his actions. That earned him respect.”

His approach was personal, and he made a point of calling and visiting members.

“He wasn't just the religious leader. He was in our homes,” Ms. Kadri said. “He was our friend, our father, our brother, our uncle. Everybody saw him as one of those things, but he treated everyone the same.”

He was a great proponent of links between the community centers and academe. In the mid-1990s, he led the effort to establish a chair of Islamic studies at the University of Toledo. He was instrumental in establishing a training program for imams at the Islamic Center, where graduates of Al-Azhar University of Cairo - his alma mater - could be trained to work as imams in American-Muslim communities.

He was pragmatic and an optimist. He believed and preached shared values with other religions and emphasized the common thread that binds Islam with Judaism and Christianity.

Born into a middle-class family in a village near Cairo, Imam Khattab attended the local village school and later enrolled in Al-Azhar University. At that ancient seat of Islamic leaning, he received a broad education in theology, social sciences, Islamic law, and related disciplines and received a master's degree.

His quest for knowledge would later take him for a second master's degree in sociology from the University of Alberta and an almost completed doctorate in sociology from the University of Waterloo, both in Canada.

After graduation from Al-Azhar University, he was in the Egyptian consulate in Calcutta for two years and later headed the Institute of Foreign Languages at Al-Azhar.

Realizing his unusual abilities in preaching and guidance, Al-Azhar University appointed him in 1964 to head the Canadian Islamic Center in Edmonton. That was a turning point in the life of the idealistic young man and, for the next 34 years, he guided many Muslim communities in North America and broke ground in religious interpretations.

He was director of the Islamic Center in London, Ont., and director of the social services department at St. Joseph Hospital in Sarnia, Ont., before he came to the Toledo.

Surviving are his wife, Fauzia; his son, Khalid; daughter, Huda Khattab Moussa; brother, Muhammad, and sisters, Soad and Zuhrah.

Services will be at 12:30 p.m. today in the Islamic Center. Arrangements are by the Witzler-Shank Mortuary.

The family requests tributes to the Islamic Center.

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