Dar Al Hijrah, one of the Washington area's largest mosques, has named a prominent Muslim activist as its new spiritual leader.
The new imam is Shaker El Sayed, who has been secretary general of the Muslim American Society for the past five years. Sayed, 53, is an Egyptian immigrant who served in the late 1980s as imam of the Islamic Center of Washington on Massachusetts Avenue NW.
Sayed said he was taking the post at a time of great challenges for Muslims in the area.
"There is a lot of stress on the community because of the 9/11 paranoia," he said in a telephone interview. "And this will put a tremendous responsibility on the leadership of the center, to help the community to go through this period and expand its communication and engagement with the larger society, the press and even the government."
Dar Al Hijrah has attracted scrutiny because two of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers briefly worshiped at the mosque after one became friendly with a former imam, Anwar Aulaqi. FBI officials have said they found no indication that the imam, who has since left the country, knew in advance about the attacks.
Dar Al Hijrah in Falls Church is closely affiliated with the Muslim American Society, a 13-year-old organization that promotes Islam. The society has been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, considered the world's largest and most influential Islamic movement, which advocates a purer, more restrictive form of Islam and greater reliance on Islamic law. The Egyptian-based Brotherhood generally renounces violence but endorses resistance to "occupation" by such groups as the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas. Hamas has conducted a campaign of suicide bombing against Israelis.
Sayed said he is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood but supports what he described as the movement's moderation and its denunciations of violence.
Sayed was trained in Islamic studies and law by scholars at Al Azhar University in Egypt. He also did graduate work in education and psychology at the University of Houston. He has served on several interfaith boards in Washington and directed the education department at the Islamic Society of North America. He also has been part of the executive committee that runs Dar al Hijrah's daily affairs.
In recent months, he has been the spokesman for the family of Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, a Falls Church student charged in a conspiracy to kill President Bush. Abu Ali has pleaded not guilty.
Sayed succeeds Sheik Mohamed Adam, who left the imam post to become the executive director of the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Islamic legal scholars.