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Published: Saturday, 9/20/2008

Book of sermons is a labor of love

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Imam A.M. Khattab was photographed at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in 1998. He died in 2001.
Imam A.M. Khattab was photographed at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in 1998. He died in 2001.
LEWIS / BLADE Enlarge

If it were possible, Dr. Nilofer Yusafzai would like the world to think that her book, Islam: The Sermons of Imam A.M. Khattab, materialized out of thin air.

A physician who lives in Perrysburg, Dr. Yusafzai does not want any credit for writing and publishing the book, but seeks only to bring attention to the sermons of the late Muslim cleric.

Imam Khattab, who was the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo from 1982 until his retirement in 1998, died of cancer on Sept. 15, 2001, at age 69.

"I did this project only as a service to God, and as a deed that, by God's will, will benefit Imam's soul. I am not looking for any credit or fame, however small, for myself because I look forward for my reward only from Allah," Dr. Yusafzai said.

She agreed to an interview with The Blade but declined requests to be photographed.

Getting the sermons into print was a major undertaking for Dr. Yusafzai, but it was something the busy physician felt compelled to do. She considered Imam Khattab's teachings to be so important that she needed to share them with others, and she was the only one who had tape recordings of the sermons.

A native of Pakistan, Dr. Yusafzai graduated from the Khyber Medical College and came to the United States in 1978.

She has worked in family practice and now is an emergency physician in Montpelier, Ohio. When she first arrived in Toledo in 1985 she began attending the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.

While Imam Khattab played a key role in the building of the mosque, highly visible at the junction of I-75 and I-475, his lasting legacy will be the wisdom he offered on Islam and his insights into the Qur'an, the Islamic holy book, Dr. Yusafzai said.

"In Pakistan, I had read the Qur'an with meanings when I was in high school, and I had read a book here and there, but all my schooling in Islam really came from Imam Khattab and this mosque," she said.

The 55-year-old physician said she always sat in the front row for the Sunday afternoon sermons.

A nationally known scholar, Imam Khattab's interpretations of Islam and the Qur'an were more progressive, or liberal, than most imams.

In most mosques, for example, women worship separately and behind the men, but Imam Khattab had the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo set up so that men and women worship side by side, separated by a low wall.

It also was the first mosque in the United States to elect a woman as president.

"I realized the worth of Imam Khattab's teachings as I was listening to him, and so I began to tape them," Dr. Yusafzai said. "I taped them just for myself because I wanted to listen to them later on because the content is so relevant to our lives."

At first, she considered transcribing the sermons, which were spoken in English with Arabic references, in order to have them translated into Bukhto, the dialect spoken in her native area of Pakistan.

"I wanted to be able to give them to the imams in Pakistan, so that they could start talking some sense," Dr. Yusafzai said with a laugh.

When she told Imam Khattab of her plans to share his sermons with Pakistani clerics, she said that "he laughed and said, 'No, they're not ready for that!'•"

After Imam Khattab's death, she realized that she was the only one who had preserved his sermons on tape, and felt a responsibility to make them available to as wide an audience as possible.

She hired Amin Ahmad to design a Web site, imamkhattab.org, where she had audio versions of the sermons posted as well as the transcripts as they became available.

In a separate endeavor, the physician also helped support the imam's legacy by contributing to the Imam Khattab Endowed Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Toledo.

Compiling the sermons into book form has been a labor of love for Dr. Yusafzai.

The physician, who is single, said she could not begin to guess the total number of hours she put into the project, but acknowledged she worked 5 to 12 hours a day, 3 to 4 days a week, for 6 years typing, editing, and fact-checking the texts.

"It was not easy, especially for someone who is deaf," she said. "An ordinary person can just listen to the tape recording and hear it and understand it. I had to have my earphones in my ears, and even then I wouldn't always be able to catch it. And sometimes he would go so fast and I could only catch some of it. I had to go back and redo it."

But those repeated listenings proved helpful for her spiritual understanding, she said. "Every time, you see some new meanings in it."

Imam Khattab's references in Arabic were particularly challenging for the doctor because she did not speak Arabic. It was only after she finished the book that she took time off to study the language, attending an Arabic language school in Yemen.

Dr. Yusafzai said she was aided by a number of people in writing the book, including Tom Klein, a retired English professor at Bowling Green State University.

"She e-mailed me the sermons and I took red pen to them, mostly urging Nilofer to enrich and clarify the footnotes so a non-Muslim audience could read with fullest understanding," Mr. Klein said.

"In the process, I developed great respect for the imam, the struggles he faced with a congregation of so many diverse peoples and Muslims from more than 20 countries."

Dr. Yusafzai paid to have a Korean firm publish 3,000 deluxe editions of the book in English on high-quality, ultra-thin gilt-edged paper that makes its 930 pages look deceptively thin.

"I wanted it to be really nice, because then you feel like reading it," she said.

Asked how much it cost to have the book published, she declined to give a figure, saying only that "you can't imagine the phenomenal amount of money I spent on it."

Gazing at a copy of the finished volume, Dr. Yusafzai smiled and added, "It turned out way beyond my expectations."

Islam: The Sermons of Imam A.M. Khattab is priced at $25 and is available through the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, 419-874-8820, online at icgt.org, or from Dr. Yusafzai by contacting her via e-mail at Nilofer.Yusafzai@utoledo.edu.

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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