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American Imam Inspires Followers

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is one of the best-known and most respected religious leaders in Washington, DC. He was the first Muslim Chaplain in higher education (Howard University), and holds prominent positions in several national Muslim organizations. Today, the Imam is the director of community outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. Recently, Urdu TV's Imran Siddiqui spent a day with Imam Johari and found out why so many call him "the 21st century Muslim Imam." VOA's Jim Bertel narrates.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik grew up in Brooklyn, in the northeastern state of New York and was raised as an Episcopalian. But as he grew older he began a search for spirituality. During graduate school, he found his calling and embraced the Islamic faith eventually becoming the first officially recognized Muslim Chaplain in higher education in the U.S.

He holds degrees in chemistry and genetics, is a scholar, a community leader, a musician, and he is also an avid golfer. But above all he is a man of faith and believes all people can achieve greatness. "Superman, what does he do most of the time? He does nothing. But, every now and then, he is called upon to do something superhuman, to have a capacity to care, a capacity to love, a capacity to see, a capacity to speak out. And just for those few moments he gets to be superman. Most of us are like that. Maybe you don't see that super moment."

Even though he was raised in a Christian church, he believes he was born a Muslim.

"In the true meaning of the word, we're all born Muslim. And so I am not joining something new, I'm not changing my religion, I am just following the natural progression and dispensation of the prophets," he says.

And that natural progression led him to be a religious leader, an American Imam.

"In our community, what it means is someone who is responsible, who cares for, who has been trained and educated just enough to lead the people who are under him in the community," he explains.

In addition to preaching about life and religion, Imam Johari also teaches a class on Islam at a Virginia college. He says his two roles are very different.

"The preacher is saying, 'this is what we believe in, take my word for it.' The teacher is saying, 'I am going to ignite your mind in a way that causes you to assimilate this information I am giving you. Wrestle with it in your brain, think about it, challenge it, look in other places. And then I am going to examine you to find out if you can think.," he says.

Whether teaching, preaching, or playing golf, Imam Johari is an inspiration to his many followers.