DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Michigan (AP) -- A top Shiite Muslim leader in the United States says a "clash of ideas" caused his departure from one of North America's largest mosques, and he is forging ahead with a new congregation and plans for a mosque, media channels and other projects to reach those inside and outside of his faith.
Imam Hassan al-Qazwini, who spoke Monday to The Associated Press after months of public silence, said that he hopes to have a permanent home for his new congregation by the year's end. Many come from his former mosque, the Islamic Center of America in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, which has one of the largest and oldest Arab-Muslim communities outside the Middle East.
The departure capped months of acrimony, including anonymous letters accusing al-Qazwini of mishandling money and using donations from congregants for projects run by his father in Iraq, such as an orphanage and planned hospital for the poor. Leaders of his former mosque wanted to use the funds to cover mosque debt and local work.
"The issue with the board was mostly ... a clash of ideas and mindset," al-Qazwini told the AP. "I have a bigger image for my mission and the center I serve than the board has. They feel that their mission mostly pertains to the local community, in Dearborn. I believe that the name, Islamic Center of America, implies much more."
Qazwini, 50, served for 18 years as the imam, or prayer leader, of the Islamic Center before resigning last month.
Al-Qazwini, who comes from a family of prominent American Shiite scholars and is of Iraqi descent, said some people misunderstood the mission and his motives.
"Everything was legal," he said. "Some members of the congregation donated to the orphanage. ... Some board members had an issue with that."
Al-Qazwini, a husband and father of six children ranging in age from 8 to 30, leads Friday prayers in Detroit at the Az-Zahra Center, the former home of the Islamic Center. Al-Qazwini says the services typically draw between 400 and 500 "mostly young, American-born, American-educated" Muslims.
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