An Oklahoma City Muslim leader said some local Muslims have been in turmoil over the Syrian conflict for the past three years.
But the Egyptian crisis and the imminent possibility of a U.S. air strike on Syria have caused political divisions at mosques across the country to intensify — and the mosque at 3815 N St. Clair is no different, said Imad Enchassi, imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.
Enchassi, 48, said the mosque draws about 800 people every week to its most popular prayer gathering, the Friday Jummah prayers. He said people from 76 ethnic backgrounds come to the mosque and that diversity has placed him in the center of political disagreements.
“I am in the hot seat,” he said.
Enchassi, whose father is a Palestinian of Egyptian descent and whose mother is Syrian, said he and other imams have been discussing the issue over the past several years.
He said the imams talked about their main objectives during a recent teleconference hosted by the North American Imams Federation.
Their first goal, Enchassi said, is to maintain peace at the mosques amid the growing uproar over the situation in Syria. He said the Syrian conflict has caused more division than other overseas conflicts because there are Muslims on both sides of the clash.
“The imams' dilemma is trying to keep everyone united,” he said.
He said the political division has caused the severing of some long-standing relationships in mosques.
“It's sad for imams to see some friends who have been friends for 30 years are now rivals,” Enchassi said.
He said he noticed that some members of his mosque congregation began to scrutinize the words he used in his sermons several years ago but that scrutiny has intensified. Other imams have said they have been subjected to abuse, accusations, harassment and even threats.
He said he and other imams have tried to speak in general terms about overseas conflicts and tried to make their prayers general in nature. Many, Enchassi said, stick to humanitarian issues — taking no sides but speaking out against the killing of innocent people.
The imams participating in the teleconference agreed local imams should concentrate on issues facing their local communities such as outreach, education and youth.
Enchassi said his efforts to be neutral and promote reconciliation have been criticized by some members of the mosque who are frustrated and want people, including him, to choose sides.
“They don't differentiate between Imad, which is me, and imam, which is my title,” he said.
Enchassi said he has volunteered overseas for the past three years to aid refugees. He said he worked with Islamic Relief, an international humanitarian agency, to deliver food, visit hospitals and perform other volunteer projects in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. He said he still has family ties to the area, as his aunts and sister live in Syria.
Enchassi said he was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and spent his teen years in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps.
He was there in September 1982 when the camps were set upon by a group called the Lebanese Christian militiamen and hundreds of refugees were killed. Enchassi said he was rescued by the American Red Cross and subsequently came to the United States, settling in Lubbock, Texas, in 1983. Enchassi said he came to Oklahoma City in the late 1980s where he helped found the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.