WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Ramadan, the annual, 40-day period when Muslims worldwide abstain from eating and drinking in daylight hours, begins June 6.
This Ramadan promises to be special for members of the Greater Cincinnati Islamic Center in West Chester Township, the area’s largest mosque, because for the first time in more than a year they will have a full-time spiritual leader, or imam.
He is Hossam Musa, a 36-year-old native of Dearborn, Michigan, who for the past three years has served as the imam at Columbus’ largest mosque, the Noor Islamic Cultural Center.
His selection was the result of a nine-month process of filtering through applications, interviewing candidates and having them serve as guest imams, said Shakila Ahmad, the Islamic Center’s president.
The board of directors liked Musa’s extensive education and knowledge of Islam – he has the entire Quran memorized – as well as his history of working with people of other faiths, she said.
He’s also very much an American young professional, she said, which will help him relate to the members, many of whom have young children.
A survey of the mosque’s membership last year showed that “youth programs” was the most popular answer to the question, “What services would be most beneficial to the Greater Cincinnati community?”
Dr. Amir Izhar, one of the search committee’s co-chairs, said his biggest desire was to find someone who could guide youth religiously, but who could also talk with them about sports and even play with them.
“Basically, that kids would look up to him as a role model,” Izhar added in an email. “I hope we succeeded in that.”
Musa showed no arrogance, authoritarianism or “overall dullness” in his nature, and that was appealing, said search committee member Dr. Samina Sohail.
“His friendly, laid-back approach spoke volumes beyond his credentials,” she said in an email. “He exhibits a genuine interest in others that is a refreshing invitation to a future relationship as a friend, colleague and spiritual leader.”
Musa literally grew up in the faith. His first teacher was his father, Mohamed Musa, a native of Egypt whom his son said has served as imam for various Michigan mosques for more than 30 years and is the oldest practicing imam in the state.
“I have been inspired by him,” Hossam said.
The younger Musa memorized the Quran, Islam’s holy book, when he was 13 years old. It took about 10 and a half months to commit the 600-page text to memory, he said.
His knowledge of the Quran helped him represent the United States in international Quran competitions in 1997, 1998 and 2012.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan-Dearborn School of Engineering in 2004, and studied Islamic jurisprudence and Arabic at Mishkah University.
A biography he provided describes him as an avid gardener, hunter, traveler and foodie.
Before serving as imam in Columbus, for 10 years he was a teacher and director of the Quran, Arabic and Islamic studies department at Huda School in Franklin, Michigan, a private Islamic school.
He left Columbus for Cincinnati because he liked the West Chester mosque’s facilities, he said, but more because of the kindness the members showed him when he visited.
As imam, he said, his duties will be similar to those of a pastor of a Christian church. He’ll be expected to help celebrate births, perform marriages, advise couples on their relationship, perform funeral services, give sermons at Friday prayers and lead pilgrimages to Mecca, the holy city of Islam in Saudi Arabia.
One of his goals will be to boost attendance at Friday prayers in West Chester. In Columbus, the mosque had five prayer services on Friday, he said, which each drew more than 1,000 worshipers.
Between 1,100 and 1,400 attend Friday prayers at the West Chester mosque, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. There are an estimated 25,000-30,000 Muslims in the Tristate area.
Musa also plans to continue the mosque’s tradition of cultivating good relations with those of other faiths.
“We live in a society of multiple faiths, and I am part of that society,” he said.
Sometimes in the United States “the many kind voices are not as loud as the few negative voices,” he said. Nevertheless, he added, “I wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world.”