Interview with Imam Mohamed AbuTaleb
Mohamed AbuTaleb only arrived in NC a few short months ago, to succeed Imam Baianonie as the Imam of The Islamic Association of Raleigh (IAR). A native of the Washington, DC area; Mohamed was motivated to become an Imam because, as a child, his own community mosque did not have a permanent imam. “Later on,” Imam AbuTaleb explains, “I was exposed to other DC mosques, and when I was living in Boston doing graduate studies there were many Imams who had an impact on me. This allowed me to realize how important it was to have local, accessible religious leadership. As I travelled more and visited other communities, I saw the dynamic that I had missed as a child.”
This motivated him to pursue the course of becoming an alim even though he was already an electrical engineer. “Growing up, I was always promised a fork in the road; basically that no one can be interested in both sciences and religion.” says Imam AbuTaleb, “I have enjoyed doing both and have seen both of them impact one another greatly.” When asked how his secular knowledge benefits his religious knowledge, Mohamed says, “Any beneficial knowledge is a worship of Allah. In my case, I look at engineers as problem solvers so I try to bring whatever part of my background that is relevant to help solve the problems of our community.” He further explained that his work in engineering put him into contact with the corporate world and academic world in ways that his religious studies alone would not have done. This allows him to have greater empathy for members of the community who need help with spiritual matters in these environments.
Imam AbuTaleb discussed how many people in our community often get shut out of a masjid because of struggles in their personal lives. He expressed a serious need for people to come together and to not judge people for their struggles. He says, “We all have struggles, some are apparent and some are hidden but we must all help one another and not hinder one another as we are on this path to come back to Allah (SWT).”
As for those who perceive themselves to be righteous? Imam AbuTaleb explains, “Scholars say that the worst deception is the deception of a saint. The idea being that the worst thing we can do is to believe that we are saints, that we are perfect as Muslims. We are all actually imperfect and riddled with sin and we all have issues to face in our path back to Allah. This is why the Mosque must both be a shrine to the saintly and a place for the sick. It should be a place to celebrate those who enter our family and to mourn those who return back to Allah.” To provide a stark example of understanding, he shared, “We do recognize that substance abuse is haram, but we must embrace those who are suffering from substance abuse and provide that person with the support, knowledge and tools to overcome that addiction.”
This philosophy guides Imam Mohamed AbuTaleb as he works to build the community, “We don’t want people to come because people are guilted into coming, we want people to come because they are seeing things that they are excited to be a part of and to invite others to come and participate in.” He then went on to explain the strength that IAR has in having multiple schools operating in the center and how important cultivation of the youth is in building the long-term goals of the community.
“Seven out of ten people do not know a Muslim personally and the hateful narrative [from some media sources] becomes believable to those who don’t know Muslims personally. This is why we have to reclaim the narrative by reaching out.” says Imam AbuTaleb. He then took a moment to praise his local community for taking initiative, “Some of our community members have started mymuslimneighbor.com which is a simple pledge to invite non-Muslim neighbors over for a meal with no pretense so that they can become familiar with Muslims as a part of the community rather than some foreign entity that is exotic or strange.”
We turned to the more serious, recent topic of the threat of Islamophobia and the constant barrage of negativity from the media regarding groups like Daesh (ISIS). The Imam’s words were very straight to the point as he said, “There is no doubt that these times are trying and challenging for our communities. In fact, the rhetoric is damaging to our society at large.” He shared how IAR is dealing with the difficulties, “I remind our community that it is important to acknowledge the challenges that happen and especially to consider our young people as it is hard for many of them to process these events. We want to make sure that people do not feel isolated or confused, and we offer mental health services and other forms of counseling to help people get through these issues.”
Imam AbuTaleb continues, “It is ironic that the extremists and the islamophobes have the same goal: To marginalize and diminish Muslims. This is why our reaction has to be rooted in truth, we have an undying principle of upholding truth and righteousness as Allah commands us in the Qur’an 5:8 ‘O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah , witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do.’ Therefore we must act with poise, posture and perseverance.”
Finally, we asked Imam Mohamed AbuTaleb about his favorite part of the Qur’an, after thinking it over briefly, he said that Surah Furqan, verse 74 guides him as a husband, a father, and an Imam. Allah gives us the verse, which contains a du’a “And these are the people who submit (before the presence of Allah): ‘O our Lord, grant us coolness of eyes in our wives and our children, and make us leaders of the God-fearing people.” Imam AbuTaleb explains “This reminds me of the importance of family in Islam. In spite of all the importance of our other responsibilities, we must focus efforts on the bedrock of our community in the establishment of family and we must be excellent in all these things. We must be entrusted to drive one another to higher points of Jannah.”
Imam AbuTalib concluded his explanation of the verse, and our interview by saying, “Our lives are not just about what we do, but they are about what we encourage others to do. We are leading a legacy of righteous offspring and we are sowing the seeds of those who will be righteous for Allah (SWT).”
Please visit the Islamic Association of Raleigh online at raleighmasjid.org to read more about what they are doing and to watch or listen to Imam Mohamed AbuTaleb’s khutbahs.