Muslim in Memphis: An Interview with an Imam

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Most days are full for Anwar Arafat, the Imam at Masjid Ar-Rohman. Every day is different. He will spend most of his day meeting with people, teaching classes to children and counseling Muslims that are going through real world problems just like every other American.

What is an Imam though? By definition, an Imam is a person that leads prayers in a mosque. To a Muslim, he is much more. He is a scholar of the Quran and someone of high moral standing.
Whereas in Catholicism, the priest must remain unmarried, an Imam can be married and have children. In many ways he is similar to a Christian pastor. He studies the word of God and applies it to his daily life.

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In many ways there could be a stereotype of Muslim leaders. If you watch the news long enough, odds are that there will be something about Muslims and how they are being led into battle overseas. Often it is thought that Muslims are all from the Middle East; this is not true.

“I was born in Utah,” Arafat said. “I graduated college from there, University of Utah at Salt Lake.”

Arafat came to Memphis nearly a year ago after growing up in Salt Lake. There he was exposed to Mormonism and he was able to relate to the problems that they have.

“For the most part, Mormons tend to be more tolerant,” Arafat said. “They have faced a lot of persecution and stereotypes that are untrue so because they have been through that experience I tend to find them to be more understanding.”

Within the year that he has lived in Memphis, Arafat has found that the city has a very established Muslim community.

“Memphis has a very established community here,” Arafat said. “There are doctors and lawyers and someone pretty much everywhere here. The community is tied together and there is a good sense of unity here.”

The Muslim community is not just in a bubble either. The community, especially with Arafat and his mosque has made strides to connect with the Christian community and form a working bond to better the community.

“We have a yearly dinner between our congregation and that of St. Lukes over there off of Highland,” he said. “This is our fifth annual dinner. We help each other out in different ways and I think we want to expand our relationship to community service and other things.”

This year is was Masjid Ar-Rohman’s turn to host the event and bring the food.

“This year it was our turn to bring food so we brought Tom’s Barbecue,” he said. “Obviously since Muslims can’t eat pork, so we brought beef barbecue. The funny thing about where we got the food from is that the owner of Tom’s barbecue is a Muslim. This shows that we really are in every industry.”

Muslims really are every where in Memphis, even in the barbecue industry. One of the problems facing this group is that there seems to be a misunderstanding of Islam. People have their own ideas about Muslims but they are not necessarily educated with the facts.

“Islam has actually been in America for a very long time,” Arafat said. “Thomas Jefferson had a copy of the Quran. He new M and had a great respect for Muslims. However, when there is an ignorance about something, people tend to fear the other. The unknown other tends to be feared more than the known. And once you know the other and you know that, hey, these people are actually no different, that their religion is almost identical, people have to put down their guard. I think that people are scared to put down that guard and embrace each other. I think that is the biggest problem. We just need to embrace each other.”

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About the Author

Austin Kemker

Austin Kemker is a senior journalism student at the University of Memphis. While at the University of Memphis he has covered subjects ranging from construction on or around campus, sports and neighborhood development in the greater Memphis area.
As a Memphis native, he has strong ties to the city and has dedicated his free time to helping improve the area through numerous nonprofit organizations.

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