Sayed Hassan Qazwini's resignation from the Islamic Center of America shocked the community. But those who are familiar with the state of the relationship between the imam and some members of the ICA Board of trustees were not surprised by the news. Qazwini had blasted the board with strong statements made to The Arab American News in December.
However, the way the sayed approached his resignation and the demands he voiced to withdraw it were perplexing.
Qazwini went too far when he asked the board members to resign. Respected community figures, some of whom are allies of Qazwini, sit on that board. The sayed alienated himself from his friends when he said they should all step down.
When announcing his resignation during the Friday sermon, Qazwini spoke of genuine pain he feels because of anonymous letters that insulted him and his family. But he erred when he blamed the board for those letters. He himself had said that the letters must have been sent by an "enemy of Islam."
Numerous board members, including the ICA chairman Ron Amen, came to Qazwini's defense after the letters were sent.
At The Arab American News, we wrote an editorial slamming the letters for lack of civility and credibility and described their authors as cowards. We also dedicated two full pages to Qazwini to respond to the allegations and speak his thoughts on the state of the ICA.
Social media users also came out in large numbers defending Qazwini and discrediting the letters.
The sayed chose to see the empty half of the glass.
In his sermon, Qazwini talked about voices on the board who are plotting against him because he is Iraqi. While racism within the Arab and Muslim communities does exist, Qazwini's mostly Lebanese congregation started chanting "The board has to go" after Qazwini announced his plans to leave.
Although Qazwini's nationality might have encouraged racist individuals to attack him, those voices are certainly not "the board." Qazwini was treating the entire board the same way, which amplifies his grievances about racism and could divide the Arab community further.
The sayed said he will continue to serve the community. He hinted that he might open his own center. That is his legitimate right. If Qazwini sees greater prospects for service elsewhere, he can rightly pursue those opportunities.
However, to antagonize the entire board and cause mayhem at the ICA on his way out was not a wise decision.
According to Amen, Qazwini said on Friday night that those who oppose him are followers of Yazid, one of the most loathed figures in Shi'a Islam.
Disagreement should not lead to questioning others' character and insulting them.
"We have a problem in the community that if there is a problem between two people, one of them rushes to call the other a traitor or an infidel," Qazwini told The Arab American News in December. "That's unacceptable."
These words should have been applied to every person who is involved in this controversy, from the sayed, to board members, to pundits, to social media users.
Our community cannot afford more divisions.
The Muslim community is facing real issues, including Islamophobia, civil rights battles and media attacks. We don’t need this kind of negative focus on our community, especially when the controversy generates from the biggest mosque in the United States.
Qazwini had legitimate concerns about the role of the ICA. The biggest Islamic center in America should live up to its name and be more involved in the community and enlarge the scope of his service.
However, when turning his grievances into a personal battle, Qazwini lost his own message of reform.
The sayed served the ICA and the community for 18 years. In his eloquent English he defended Islam in the media and spoke at colleges across the country. His opponents should not discredit his legacy.
At the ICA archives gallery, a mini-museum at the Islamic Center, an entire wall is covered with photo's of Qazwini's speeches and media appearances. The sayed has dedicated almost two decades to American Muslims in Southeast Michigan.
If he indeed resigns, his farewell should be a statement of gratitude.