Interview with Imam Abraham Kamara of Masjid Keblataine in Charlotte, NC
Originally hailing from the Ivory Coast of West Africa, Imam Abraham Kamara is at once imposing and welcoming. His physical stature towers over most but his demeanor is warm, friendly and inviting. Even though he has already completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Sharia at Al-Azar University in Egypt, he came to the USA in 1999 as a student for the sole reason of improving his English. He has since married and built a family with two sons and five daughters who all fill his life with happiness.
Imam Abraham invited us to talk about issues facing the ummah today. The first thing I wanted to know was how his perception shifted from the reality of living in the Ivory Coast to being an American. “One of the big challenges that I recall is the culture of where I came from where the majority of Muslims are Mandingo.” Imam Abraham relates, “It is an ethnic group, 99% of Mandingo are Muslims so all the preaching is done in Mandingo. I have seen the impact that has, is a very negative impact on Islam because, like we are not able to communicate with other people who are non-Mandingo with the knowledge we have.” Being driven by this realization, Imam Abraham completed his education in Egypt and migrated to the USA for the sole reason of becoming fluent in English so that he could spread the word of Islam globally. As he said, it is important to educate people “…that Islam is a true religion and Islam is the religion that we all should be practicing. In order to do that, you got to have knowledge in a language they understand.”
Imam Abraham illustrated how Allah even considered this with the serpents that Moses used “When Allah (SWT) decided to send Moses (AS) to people of Israel, first He sent him to Egypt to free the slaves. When you look at it, why would you give snakes to a prophet? Why would you give something that acts like magic to a prophet?” He went on to explain that Allah’s wisdom in using the serpents was because the religious language that Egyptians understood was magic, so in order to provide a convincing argument, Allah had to send the prophet with magic that was superior to what they knew.
Likewise, Allah sent Muhammad to the Arabs; a people who took great pride in poetry and in crafting eloquent speeches. So in order to combat the eloquent speeches, he gave Muhammad a speech so perfect and unparalleled to anything they heard before. Imam Abraham summarized by saying “In order to convince people, you got to know something better than what they know.”
Since Imam Abraham had migrated for the sole purpose of learning English for the purpose of Dawah, it should be obvious that dawah itself is one of his passions, so I asked him to give advice for people who are shy or uncertain about performing dawah. Imam Abraham said “Well, the first advice I will give to him [is that] Allah (SWT), he even revealed to us in the Qur’an the way we should do dawah. He said, ‘Invite people to your religion.’ In another sense when you invite somebody in the real life, what do you do? You put nice words in there. If I have a birthday party and I’m going to invite you to come, I’m going to give you all kinds of nice things that are going to attract you from the beginning. So you’ll say ‘I’m not going to miss this.’”
As Imam Abraham continued his explanation, he made it clear that the best form of dawah is that which is done with a gentle tone, and given with respect. We should explain what benefits Islam gives and invite the people to discover the benefits that they will gain. Never be offended at questions and be willing to answer them all.
Additionally he conveys “The message I have for them Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) said in one of his hadiths, ‘The best among you is those who learned the Qur’an and also teach other people.’ Allah (SWT) said also in the Qur’an in several ayah, first of all he said, ‘Remind people because you are a reminder.’ We all need to do dawah; it’s not only the imam.” As Imam Abraham continued he reminded me of the Islamic concept that all of us are born Muslim and that our parents change our religion. So with that mindset, dawah becomes an act of reminding people of their nature rather than telling them a new idea to move into. Reminding, not demanding, not challenging. He also illustrated that when Muhammad (SAWS) first received revelation and was terrified, he was challenged by Jibreel to go and do dawah; even while he was covered in the house of Our Mother Khadijah (RA), he was told to go and teach. So, as Imam Abraham said “If we do not do Dawah, then we are missing a very big part of Islam.”
While it is true that Islam spread rapidly during the first century after Muhammad (SAWS) received revelation, over the centuries the spread has slowed to a crawl. I asked the Imam what he believes is the reason for this. “A lot of imams are not comfortable in preaching the message in other languages. They don’t feel comfortable preaching and dawah. One of the main things in coming here is I wanted to be very comfortable in preaching English. In our masjid, we are preaching in English and first it was very difficult for me too but, Alhamdullilah, gradually I am getting better and today I feel comfortable speaking everywhere.”
Since the biggest American holidays are upon us, I wanted to get Imam Abraham’s insight into how Muslim Americans should address the situation with non-Muslim family, friends and co-workers with relation to the holidays such as Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day and even Christmas.
“My advice for them like the Prophet Muhammad SAWS said there was a time Allah revealed this kind of ayah to him, He said, ‘If you are a nervous person and harsh-hearted even though you have Qur’an in your hand but you’re not going to get any follower.’ Allah in that ayah is basically praising him SAWS with good conduct. My advice into that would be to go with [your family], try to make them see Islam through you, through your behavior. But if you leave them, separate yourself from them totally, it’s like you’re not doing dawah. You’re not going to preach to them; if you are having a special occasion, if it is Christmas; they’re not going to understand if their family is preaching to them. They didn’t come for that. But make them see with your body. Preach with your behavior, what you drink, how you drink, how you dress, how you sit and what you say and what you don’t say, all that people will get attracted by that.”
“Another ayah Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad SAWS, He said to his companions, ‘You should know My Messenger is among you. If he was holding you accountable for everything you are doing, it would be difficult on you.’ The understanding for that ayah is: Try to be lenient to people, don’t be aggressive. If you’re aggressive, they are going to leave. Try to be lenient; go easy, go slowly. Make yourself sweet and that way you’re going to get more of them. The only exception to that if I know they’re going to go in a place [like a bar] where they’re only going to drink alcohol and stuff like that, I will restrict myself a little bit from that.”
Since Imam Abraham is the Imam of a masjid with such a diverse group of people from so many different countries across Africa I wanted to talk to him about another issue that Muslims have.
We know that in Islam, we embrace the ideology that Rasulullah SAWS confirmed that no race, no ethnicity has superiority over any other. However, there are a lot of Muslims that have very racist mindsets. So my question to Imam Abraham was simply “What do you think we can do in the Muslim community to address the problem of racist Muslims and fix the issue for good?”
Imam Abraham responded “My advice would be to do the same thing, to do dawah and tell them if you think that you are a truthful Muslim, you should not segregate from another Muslim because Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) does not teach us that and he said all Muslims are just like one body.”
This response surprised me, so I followed with “Now you said, ‘do dawah,’ but we’re talking to Muslims, why did you use the word dawah for that?”
The Imam explained “Because one of the reasons why segregation exists among us is because, you see, there are very few imams who preach about it and Allah (SWT) said in the Qur’an ‘Remind people, if you remind them, it’s going to benefit them.’ Most people can forget; they will forget and continue in their mistakes. But if we’re talking about it a lot, we’re going to remind them all the time. Sometimes they’re going to see themselves in that picture. ‘This thing here is about me’ or ‘this thing here is me so let me change.’ That is the biggest thing today that we don’t like one another and it’s like we can’t get along with one another. Arabs would do their own thing, Africans will do their own thing, and Pakistanis will do their own thing. When we come together, you see these people are not comfortable with one another. If we preach on that issue a lot, it’s going to wipe that feeling away. But if we don’t preach on it and we just keep quiet on it thinking that everybody knows, then the problem is growing.”
I then asked if Imam Abraham Kamara, with a Master’s Degree in Sharia and as a scholar in our community and a leader of Muslims, if he would go so far as to issue a challenge to all Imams to aggressively approach the social issues of racism, misogyny (men dominating women through belittling, rudeness and harsh actions), domestic abuse, forced marriage and other things that are un-Islamic and yet plague our community.
To which Imam Abraham clearly stated “I would challenge all of them. As a matter of fact, that is one thing we say in our community in each and every Jummuah we do. You see what people are not understanding in Islam is unity. If we are not together, there is nothing we can do.” Imam Abraham explained how Prophet Muhammad SAWS united the two groups in Makkah, Al Aus and Al Kharraj, before ever teaching them about Islam. It was important to unify them as people first because “We all need to think about that as a Muslim. This message can only be stronger if we are comfortable around one another if we treat one another with mutual respect. We’ve got to talk about it a lot. Prophet Muhammad SAWS said ‘Whoever spends the night without having the concern for other Muslims, he is not among us.’ There are a lot of hadiths that Prophet Muhammad SAWS preached about us getting along, about us treating one another fairly and with respect because without that it will be very difficult for us to even practice Islam.”
As always, I wrapped up the interview by asking about Imam Abraham’s favorite part of the Qur’an, after some thinking he settled on declaring Surah Al Imran as his favorite “Because… when the mother of Maryam prayed, she said to Allah, ‘Give me a child that I can dedicate this child for special causes.’ she was expecting a boy, not a girl. When Maryam came, she said to Allah ‘I have delivered a female.’ Why is she telling that to Allah? Allah already knew when Maryam was in the womb, He already knew! She didn’t like it, but … even though Maryam was female; she became even stronger than millions of men. So just make du’a to Allah give you a good child, that’s all. When Allah gives you a girl, give her the equal gratitude as when he is a boy. The baraqah can be in that girl even more than the boy. That’s one thing I like about that Surat because a lot of people out there they don’t like it when Allah offer them a female. Subhanallah!”
Who will stand up and take the challenge Imam Abraham issued? Insh’allah all Imams across America will take this challenge and purge the social injustice of racism along with domestic violence and other issues which plague our community. May Allah bless Imam Abraham for lighting the torch on this important issue.
To hear more from Imam Abraham Kamara, attend Masjid Keblataine on Friday Jummuah from 1pm-1:30pm at 937 Eastway Dr., Charlotte, NC 28205
Masjid keblataine has outgrown its current location and is seeking to move to a new location. We encourage Muslims to contribute to the establishment, construction, expansion or relocation of any Masjid whose teaching is rooted in Qur’an and Sunnah so that, insh’allah, it will be a source of Sadaqa Jarriyah for you.