Written by Yasin T. al-Jibouri
[email protected]

Yasin Al-Jibouri graduated from the College of Arts, Baghdad University, on June 30, 1969, having majored in English which he taught at a high school in Hilla, metropolis of Babylon governorate, starting in 1970 then at a vocational institute in al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, for a couple of years starting in 1971 during which year he had the opportunity to perform the pilgrimage (hajj) in the company of his respected father and a maternal cousin. From there, he flew in 1972 to the United States by way of Beirut, Lebanon. In Rome, Italy, he changed flights and reached New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport in the eve of August 13, 1972. His objective was to pursue his studies for a graduate degree in English which he achieved.

In the United States, al-Jibouri had in the beginning the hardest years of his life simply because he had to pay for his own studies as well as living expenses. He rejected an offer by Saddam Hussein’s government, which was made in person by the Cultural Attaché at the Iraqi Embassy in London at the time, to pay for his schooling provided he moved from the United States to the United Kingdom. He knew that if he had accepted the offer, he would have to be used by the tyrant’s government as a tool to do its bidding. Working menial jobs during the summer and studying during other seasons, he could not earn his degree before 1978, accumulating by then many more credit hours than required to graduate. His graduation date from the then Atlanta University (now Clark-Atlanta University) is December 20, 1978.

Despite many years of hunger and want, he became involved in the activities of the “Muslim Students Association of the United States and Canada” (MSA) which later was included under the umbrella of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). In 1973, he inaugurated Atlanta’s first Islamic Center, delivering the khutba (sermon) as the imam, but he soon was forced out due to sectarian prejudices mainly from some Indian and Pakistani self-appointed Sunni community leaders who were administering the MSA’s activities. He, therefore, was removed as the imam, and this prompted him in the winter of 1973 to establish the Islamic Society of Georgia, Inc. in order to introduce Islam the proper way, not by attacking this sect or that as those ignorant couple and their followers were doing, but through the medium of Islamic Affairs bi-monthly newsletter which started publication in January of 1974. The founders of the Islamic Society of Georgia, Inc., were, in addition to al-Jibouri, Dr. Akbar Ali Zaidi, a Pakistani-American who worked for the statistics department in the famous Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, who served as the Society’s President, and Muhammed Zafar Mahdi, also Pakistani, who was studying for his Ph.D. at Georgia State University and who served as the Society’s financial secretary. Later, they were joined by Dr. Ja`far Tabatabai, an Iranian-American physician, who served as the Society’s financial secretary after Mahdi had left the State of Georgia.

During the entire period from 1973 to 1979, al-Jibouri served as the Society’s General Secretary. The Society’s activities covered not only the local community in Atlanta but extended to serve the entire United States and abroad. Al-Jibouri kept in touch with a number of seekers of the truth in order to explain to them what the faith of the immediate family of the Prophet (ص) was, and some of them finally were convinced,

so they embraced it and have been propagating it ever since. For example, Latif Ali, who was born in 1954 in Banje Berbice, Guyana, for a Sunni family, is one of them. He recalls how his father used to go quite often to the area mosque but died when Ali was only nine. When he grew up, due to the fact that he studied at the Cumberland Methodist School, Latif Ali had an opportunity to compare the Methodist sect of Christianity with both Bahaaism (Which was created by one Baha’ullah who was born in 1817 and died in 1892) and Qadianism (faith of the Ahmadis; the Ahmadiyya Movement which was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed of Qadian which is located in the Gurdaspur District in the State of Punjab, India; “Qadianism” and “Ahmadism”

bear the same connotation). Meanwhile, he came to know the author through Islamic Affairs newsletter. Gradually, he was influenced by both newsletter and books which al-Jibouri had sent him and eventually embraced Shiite Islam wholeheartedly. Other well known Shiite scholars and publishers also contributed to Latif Ali’s acceptance of the Shiite Jaafari Inthna-Asheri School of Muslim Law.

The establishment of the Islamic Society of Georgia, Publisher of Islamic Affairs bimonthly newsletter, took place at al-Jibouri’s modest apartment at 172 Vine Street, S.W., No. 7, Atlanta, Georgia, shortly after al-Jibouri was removed as the imam of the Islamic Center of Atlanta. This quite recurring incident of pushing out Shiites from leading positions in the Islamic community is one of the ugly manifestations of prejudice by some Sunnis towards their Shiite brothers, and it happens quite often. Yet this ouster produced a flood of literature started with the publication and distribution of Islamic Affairs newsletter and developed later into the translating and writing of many quality books detailed here for you so you may judge for yourself. And this incident of ousting al-Jibouri from his leading role in Atlanta is detailed in his autobiography titled Memoirs of a Shiite Ithna-Asheri Missionary. These memoirs were published and distributed and may be reprinted in book form. Presently, they are available only in electronic form.

In January of 1974, al-Jibouri started editing and publishing his Society’s newsletter Islamic Affairs which evolved from a four-page newsletter to a twelve-page bulletin, becoming the most widely circulated Shiite publication in the United States with readers in all 50 U.S. States and 67 countries abroad, prompting the Society to seek help from a local company to maintain its vast computerized mailing list and print address labels for distributing Islamic Affairs by mail. All issues of this newsletter were printed and mailed out throughout the States and abroad free of charge, thanks to the generosity of its eager readers and supporters. Seldom has a Shiite publication lived for so long while being supported by voluntary contributions in addition to the generosity of its founders. Just to give you an idea about how powerful that newsletter was, here is al-Jibouri narrating an incident for you:

“Vol. 1, No. 4 issue of Islamic Affairs featured an article about Imam Ali (ع), and the issue was extremely popular, so much so that we had to reprint it three times. Nevertheless, one day I needed a copy of that issue in order to reprint it for the fifth time, so I kept calling some of its recipients in Atlanta trying to borrow it from them. Everyone I called told me that he/she had given it to someone else and that it kept in circulation till he lost track of it. The Library of Atlanta’s Emory University was a regular recipient of Islamic Affairs because it has a department of theology, so I went there and spoke with the librarian after introducing myself as the editor-in-chief of Islamic Affairs. The librarian went away and looked for the newsletter. After a while, she returned to tell me that one of the university’s professors had borrowed it and was using it as a teaching tool in his classes. I inquired about when he would return it, and the lady told me that it would be returned two weeks later. She wrote a note to herself not to let anyone borrow it other than myself for the time being. Exactly two weeks later, I returned to the library and asked for my copy of the newsletter. The same lady went and brought it to me. I was grateful but deeply disappointed: The professor had written so many notes on it in ink so he would explain its contents to his students, it could not be reproduced at all.” This incident shows you how popular and powerful Islamic Affairs was. In his book titled Islamic Da’wah in the West: Muslim Missionary Activity and the Dynamics of Conversion to Islam (Oxford University Press, 1992), Larry Poston mentions Islamic Affairs four times.

In 1975, Yasin T. al-Jibouri received instructions to facilitate the entry to the United States of the very first representative of the then Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qasim al-Khoei in North America, namely Sheikh Muhammed Sarwar of Quetta, near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, who, due to al-Jibouri’s personal sponsorship, did, indeed, arrive at the same point of entry, namely New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, on January 25, 1976, a very important date in the history not only of the Shiite community of North American but of that of the whole Islamic world due to the tabligh activities that resulted from the establishment of such a monumental Shiite institution like the Khoei Center in an important part of the world. The request to facilitate the entry into the United States of Sheikh Sarwar came through New York’s Shi’a Association of North America (SANA), which was founded by al-Jibouri’s great friend, Ghulam-Raza Hassanali, who had migrated to the United States with his family from Dares-Salam, Tanzania, as did Aunali Khalfan who is mentioned elsewhere in this Preface. SANA is believed to be the very first Shiite organization established in the United States: It was founded in the early 1970s, perhaps a year or two before al-Jibouri had founded his Islamic Society of Georgia, Inc. Sheikh Sarwar failed to obtain an entry visa to the United States after having tried to do so in Iraq, then in Iran, Germany and the United Kingdom. Followers of al-Khoei in these countries acted as guides and hosts for the Sheikh and helped him with accommodations and travel expenses. When Hassanali spoke to al-Jibouri about the Sheikh being given the run-around, the first sent a package to the Sheikh who was at the time in London containing the following documents: 1) a letter of sponsorship which al-Jibouri typed on his Society’s stationery indicating that he was the Sheikh’s personal sponsor and guarantor, that al-Jibouri pledged not to let this cleric work in the United States, and that the visa applicant, if granted the visa, would abide by U.S. laws, rules and regulations; 2) a copy of the Bylaws of the Islamic Society of Georgia, Inc., of which al-Jibouri was the General Secretary; 3) constitution of the Islamic Society of Georgia, Inc.; and 4) some copies of the Islamic Affairs newsletter. Unfortunately, the package arrived after the Sheikh had already made another failed bid in London to obtain the entry visa to the United States; so, he was advised to go to Lebanon to try his luck. In Beirut, he was subjected to a foiled kidnapping attempt as the country was embroiled in civil war; so, the Shiites there were very much concerned about his safety: They whisked him out of Beirut in the depth of the night to Damascus which was to be his last attempt following which he would return to Najaf, Iraq, to resume his studies at the hawza. In Damascus, Sheikh Sarwar submitted the package sent to him by al-Jibouri during the interview, and he was finally able to obtain his entry visa.

A few days following the arrival in the United States of Sheikh Muhammed Sarwar, the Sheikh became al-Jibouri’s room-mate in Atlanta, Georgia. There, the Sheikh received training by al-Jibouri on the preparation of newsletters and different publications especially in the areas of typesetting, art designs and layout, steps required for making a “cold camera-ready copy” before being sent to the press. The Sheikh had come with specific instructions from the late Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei to start a regular newsletter or magazine, produce a new English translation of the Holy Qur’an and write books for Muslim children and adults. Upon its completion, Sheikh Sarwar’s English translation of the Holy Qur’an was published by Tahrike-Tarsile-Qur’an, Inc. (Distribution of Holy Qur’an, Inc.) of New York, a publishing house established and managed by al-Jibouri’s close friend, Aunali Khalfan, and his great family. For your information, Khalfan was instrumental in the publication for the first time ever of a text of the Holy Qur’an in Braille language for the blind. He has been publishing not only various translations of the Holy Qur’an but also some other top quality Islamic books, including many published by Ansariyan, the list of which now tops five thousand. One of the books which he has published and is now marketing is Peak of Eloquence: Nahjul Balagha which is compiled by al-Sharif al-Radi and edited by Yasin T. al-Jibouri with an Introduction by Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari. This title is marketed world-wide by other American book sellers as well. May the Almighty bless Aunali’s efforts and reward them in the life of this world and in the Hereafter, Allahomma Aameen .اللھم آمين

As for the magazine which the Sheikh was instructed to issue, it was given the title The Message of Islam. It was, indeed, founded in February of 1976 under the supervision of Sheikh Sarwar not in Atlanta, Georgia, but in Houston, Texas, shortly before the Sheikh had gone to Atlanta to be al-Jibouri’s roommate for few months. Its publication was made possible through help from the Shiite community in Houston members of which had written al-Khoei requesting him to send them a scholar to teach them Shiite Islam. During his stay at al-Jibouri’s very modest apartment (so modest, its monthly rent at the time was only $98 exclusive of utilities) in Atlanta, Georgia, the Sheikh put out two editions of this magazine. Thereafter, the Sheikh moved from Atlanta to New York City where there have always been a much larger Shiite population and where a fourth edition of The Message of Islam was published. To the best of al-Jibouri’s knowledge, this magazine disappeared after the publication and distribution of its fourth edition. In New York, Sheikh Muhammed Sarwar founded the Khoei Center. Later on, unfortunately a controversy developed because of which the New York Shiite community requested the late Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei to remove Sheikh Muhammed Sarwar from office and appoint someone else in his place. The great sage sent in 1982 one of his sons, namely martyr Sayyid Majid al-Khoei, on a fact-finding mission and to prepare for the establishment of the Khoei Foundation, the very first major institution established by Najaf’s marji`iyya مرجعية (highest religious authority) in the Western world. The year 1982 ended Sarwar’s term which started in 1976. He was replaced, after a bitter and costly court battle, by Sheikh Fadhil al-Sahlani, an Iraqi sheikh from Nasiriyya and a friend of al-Jibouri. Sheikh al-Sahlani has been efficiently running the Foundation, School and Center ever since. In the process of those court hearings, Yasin T. al-Jibouri, in his capacity as Sarwar’s personal sponsor, was requested to submit a signed statement indicating that the late Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei was Sarwar’s boss and that the latter was obligated to follow his orders; otherwise, he would be insubordinate. Al-Jibouri complied, composing and signing such a statement as requested in his capacity as the one who helped him come to the United States and acted as his guarantor. The statement was presented before the judge who ruled that Sarwar should step down from his office and hand over all documents and assets to Sheikh Fadhil al-Sahlani, the new representative of al-Khoei to the believers in the United States and Canada.

The present building of the Khoei Foundation, which is located in Jamaica, New York, was opened seven years after that incident, that is, on the 15th of Sha’ban 1409 A.H./March 25,1989, in order to meet the religious needs of the Muslim community in the United States. The religious programs are conducted in Arabic, Urdu, Persian and, of course, English. Presently, the address of the Khoei Foundation is 13711 90th Avenue, and that of the Khoei Center is 8989 Van Wyck Expressway, both located in Jamaica, a suburb of New York City. The latter includes a mosque, a school and resident imam’s quarters as well as a modern library, kitchen and cafeteria.

In the same year, that is, 1989, the Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei established the London branch of this Foundation, appointing his son, Sayyid Muhammed Taqi al-Khoei, as its head. It is now located on Chevening and Salusbury roads. Its board, upon establishment, was comprised of these dignitaries: Sayyid Muhammed Taqi al-Khoei, Sheikh Muhsin Ali al-Najafi, Sheikh Yousuf Nafsi, Sayyid Muhammed al-Mousawi (of Bombay, India), Sayyid Fadhil al-Milani, Sayyid Majid al-Khoei (another son of the late al-Khoei), Sheikh Hajj Kadhim Abdul-Hussain, Sayyid Muhammed Ali Shahristani (a world renown philanthropist and founder of the Open Islamic University in London, a man who was born in Iraq and who had descended from an Iranian family), and al-Hajj Mustafa Kawkal. Sayyid Taqi al-Khoei was succeeded in this post by his brother, the late Sayyid Abdul-Majid al-Khoei who was assassinated in Najaf, Iraq, on Thursday, April 10, 2003. Following this tragic incident, Sayyid Yousuf al-Khoei, another son of the late Grand Ayatollah, became director of London’s Khoei Foundation. Another branch for the Khoei Foundation was established in Montreal, Canada, but information about it has not been available at the time when this text has been compiled for the kind reader.

Late Grand Ayatolllah al-Khoei was born on November 19, 1899 and died on August 8, 1992. Following the demise of the late sage, Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qasim al-Khoei, the Shiite world, represented in Najaf’s hawza, Islamic seminary, elected Sayyid Ali al-Sistani to succeed him in this highest religious office. Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husaini al-Sistani was born on August 4, 1930 in Mashhad, Iran, to a family of religious scholars. His grandfather, after whom he was named, was a famous scholar who had studied in Najaf. Sistani’s family originally comes from Isfahan. During the Safavid period, his forefather, Sayyid Muhammed, was appointed by then King Hussain as “Sheikhul-Islam” (mentor/leading authority on Islam) in the Sistan province. He traveled to Sistan where he and his children settled, hence his last name, “al-Sistani”. Sistani began his religious education as a child, starting in Mashhad and moving on to study at the great Shiite holy city of Qum in central Iran in 1949. In 1951, after spending few years there, he went to Najaf, Iraq, to study under the late Grand Ayatollah Abul-Qasim al-Khoei. Sistani rose in religious ranks to be named in 1960 a supreme “marji`” مرجع أعلى the highest religious authority, under Iraqi government’s head, Gen. Abdul-Karim Qasim, but without any interference from the government. At the unusually young age of 31 (that is, in 1961), Ayatollah Sistani reached the senior level of accomplishment called ijtihad, which entitled him to pass his own judgments on religious questions and issue binding edicts.

Let us now go back and review al-Jibouri’s stay in Atlanta, Georgia, which lasted from 1972 to 1979. During that period, al-Jibouri was instrumental in attracting converts to the Shiite Ja’fari Inthna-‘Asheri School of Muslim Law. These converts were taught Islam as propagated by the Infallible Offspring of the Prophet ,(ص) namely the Ahl al-Bayt ( ع). Among the earliest of local converts, that is, not counting those outside Georgia who embraced Shiite Islam through al-Jibouri’s missionary efforts such as Latif Ali of Guyana who is discussed above, and many others elsewhere, are: Tariq Abdul-Salam followed by Mehdi Abdul-Raheem, Baqir Abdul-

Haleem and Abdul-Qahhar who were the most active callers to the truth at the time. Conversion was done to some of them directly from Christianity and to some others from the Sunni School of Muslim Law. All these converts, with the exception of Abdul-Raheem, were born and raised in Georgia. Abdul-Raheem was born in the Bahama Islands and was a permanent resident of the United States. Abdul-Qahhar once had the opportunity to go to Germany where he was blessed with converting some Germans to the Shiite Islamic faith. The other brothers gradually converted others, too, and so on, and only the Almighty knows how many are now those who have accepted Shiite Islam through such a chain of conversions. The Islamic Society of Georgia, Inc. was also able to reach out to many incarcerated Americans whom it introduced to Islam and who accepted it wholeheartedly. Some of these incarcerated converts established organizations of their own to promote the faith enthusiastically despite fierce opposition from Wahhabi and Salafi inmates who applied all sorts of pressure on administrators of American prisons to prevent these Shiite converts from practicing their faith in the claim that Shiites are not Muslims. It is not known how many inmates switched faith to Shiite Islam after being influenced by the works and translations of our brother, al-Jibouri.

After obtaining his graduate degree, al-Jibouri moved in 1979 to Prince George’s County, Maryland. In that year, al-Jibouri was invited by a group of youths studying in Toledo, Ohio, for their undergraduate and graduate degrees and who wanted to organize themselves to do Islamic da’wah work. He met them there and then and took advantage of the proximity of Toledo to Detroit so he would, for the second time, meet the late imam Muhammed Jawad Chirri who was then imam and director of the Islamic City of Detroit. Chirri and al-Jibouri had met when the first came to Atlanta, Georgia, to hold a memorial service for the tragic and premature death of an ailing young son of Dr. Ja’far Tabatabani, an Iranian-American doctor and at the time one of al-Jibouri’s fellow officers of the Islamic Society of Georgia, Inc. Reference is made to him above. The highly revered scholar and imam, Chirri, insisted on hosting al-Jibouri at his home, thus causing him to miss his flight from Ohio to Maryland! But it was time well spent: Chirri showed al-Jibouri his manuscript for his book titled The Brother of the Prophet Muhammed (ص), referring of course to Imam Ali ( ,(ع) soliciting his comments and suggestions. Imam Chirri was born in Lebanon on October 1, 1905 and died in Dearborn, Michigan, on November 10, 1994. He is known particularly for three of his most important works: The book referred to above, The Shiites Under Attack and Inquiries about Islam. These scholarly works will shine like the stars in the depth of the night and testify to the zeal of their writer for the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt ( ع). Imam Chirri, may the Almighty fill his resting place with noor, Allahomma Aameen اللھم آمين , was an avid reader of Islamic Affairs, the newsletter which al-Jibouri started editing as early as January of 1974.

While living in Hyattsville, Maryland, from 1979 – 1982, then in Virginia thereafter, Yasin T. al-Jibouri became involved in the activities of the Islamic School located in Potomac, Maryland, where the Principal was Dr. Abdul-Sahib Hashim, a very active and energetic Iraqi pediatrician who started his Islamic activities at the Islamic Center in the U.S. capital, Washington.

You can actually write a book about this great man due to the thousands of those who came to know Islam through his efforts which included writing and translating quality books designed either for new converts to Islam or for Muslim children and adults. He is an icon in the history of Islam in the United States and the world, may the Almighty reward him most generously in this life and in the life to come, Allahomma Aameen اللھم آمين.

The Sunday School was rented from its administrators for Sundays to teach children of Muslim families in Maryland, the District of Columbia (D.C., where the U.S. capital is located) and Virginia. As the children were learning the tenets of their creed, Islamic Arabic and history in classes upstairs, the parents were downstairs listening to speeches about Islam some of which were delivered by al-Jibouri. These activities were arranged and directed by Dr. Salahuddin Mahallati, an Iranian-American physician, and called “Adult Education Programs”. Now let us introduce you with some available information to two important personalities who have had a huge impact on the spread of Islam throughout the United States: