Imam of largest U.S. mosque, Iliff graduate, returns to give talk on immigrant integration
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Note: Originally published in the May, 2016 Washington Park Profile.
Iliff School of Theology, located at the corner of Iliff Avenue and University Boulevard, celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. To commemorate the anniversary, the school has planned a year of events and celebrations. On the horizon: a 50th anniversary celebration in April of the Martin Luther King speech “Beyond Vietnam,” a speech written by former Iliff Professor Vincent Harding.
Sheikh Ibrahim Kazerooni, Iliff alumni, addresses the audience at the school's Renewal Conference. Photo courtesy Iliff School of Theology.
In February, Iliff School of Theology hosted a Renewal Conference to launch their year of celebration. The conference was well attended and featured speakers from around the country, including Rachel E. Harding, scholar of Afro-Atlantic Diaspora religions at the University of Colorado, Denver; Tracie L. Keesee, Deputy Commissioner of Training with the New York Police Department; Timothy Beal, Biblical Scholar and New Programmer, currently Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio; and Sheikh Ibrahim Kazerooni of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan.
During his talk, Kazerooni highlighted the struggles his community has faced since the November election, noting that, since then, and especially since the inauguration, he has seen a significant uptick in calls to his center.
Additionally, Kazerooni said his constituents are fearful and are reaching out for help and comfort. “You would imagine after 13, 14, 15 years of interfaith work since 9/11 that we would have at least made a dent into this confrontational approach between the larger society and the minority, being Muslim. Far from it,” he said. “[This approach shows] that the deep-rooted hate and antagonism exists, no matter what happens.”
“If we, the minority, are unable to get our rights, it’s not because we don’t want to get our rights. We are struggling to organize and be productive members of society. What is happening is every time we approach the larger society, the door is shut in our face. What we need to do is remind the privileged members of society at large, ‘you really have a larger obligation, it’s not us. The ball is in your court.’”
Kazerooni and, he said, other leaders in his community feel it is not their work that is failing, but there is “some blockage within the larger society.” He and his colleagues used to feel they were not doing enough, but, particularly in Dearborn, Michigan, where Kazerooni lives and works, after making a concerted effort to reach out to the local Christian and Jewish communities, and after networking with community leaders, social service providers, and, after considering the diversity of their own population, which includes persons who work in all industries, they see the current antagonism as proof of a deeply ingrained problem.
Kazerooni’s central point from his talk is that minority groups can only do so much when it comes to claiming their rights and completing the process of integration.
“If we, the minority, are unable to get our rights, it’s not because we don’t want to get our rights," he said. "We are struggling to organize and be productive members of society. What is happening is every time we approach the larger society, the door is shut in our face. What we need to do is remind the privileged members of society at large, ‘you really have a larger obligation, it’s not us. The ball is in your court.’”
When asked to comment on Kazerooni’s statements, Caran Ware Joseph, Iliff School of Theology Director of Alumni Relations and Legacy Giving/Renewal Conference Organizer, said she is proud the school is willing to open a forum to all.
“In a world where good-meaning people try to speak for marginalized communities,” she said, “Iliff seeks to pass the microphone and create space for everyone to speak for themselves. Many people do not know or may never meet a Muslim. Iliff seeks to encourage the meeting, engaging and understanding of all people. In doing so, it models how to hold tension in those spaces of disagreement.”
According to his bio on the Islamic Center of America website, in addition to Islamic theological studies in both Najaf, Iraq and Qum, Iran, Ibrahim holds a bachelor of engineering in mining and petroleum, a master of business administration in management, a master in global studies from the University of Denver and master of theological studies from the Iliff School of Theology. He also earned a joint doctorate from the University of Denver and Iliff School of Theology.
For more information on Iliff’s 125th anniversary, visit iliff.edu/125. Since its founding in 1892, Iliff has regularly been recognized as one of the best theological schools in the nation, serving more than 30 denominations and faith traditions. The school is committed to social justice, inclusiveness and religious diversity.