May 3, 2006
By FRANCES GRANDY TAYLOR, Courant Staff Writer
Imam Qasim Sharief, leader of the Islamic Center of Hartford, died Tuesday at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center. He was 54.
Sharief, who led the Islamic Center, also known as the Masjid Muhammad, since 1988, was a pivotal figure in Hartford's interfaith community. He spoke of Islam as a religion of peace and often joined with leaders from a range of denominations to call for ecumenical understanding and reconciliation. He was also the first Islamic chaplain of the Hartford Police Department.
Members who gathered at the mosque on Hungerford Street Tuesday evening said Sharief had been ill in recent months and had been hospitalized for several weeks before his death.
"He wasn't just the imam - he was our brother," said Hassan Ali, a member who credits Sharief with helping him choose Islam and "find my way back to God."
"He was such an engaging brother," said Ali, 54. "People at the masjid just always wanted to be with him and around him. He never refused anybody."
Under Sharief's leadership, the mosque's membership outgrew its former home on North Main Street, and the mosque purchased the building at 155 Hungerford St., along with a building next door to house a program for Muslim children. He was also a force behind reducing crime in the neighborhood, working to rid the block of drug dealers who used abandoned houses on the street.
Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sharief welcomed city and state leaders to the mosque. During a rally last summer in Bushnell Park, he called on American Muslims to raise their voices to denounce terrorism.
"We are partners in this America," Sharief said. "The Muslim mother has the same concerns about her children as the Christian mother, as the Jewish mother."
Michael Clarke, 28, said the mosque had become his home since his release from prison a year ago, and that Sharief had become a father figure to him. "He really embraced me," Clark said.
Sajdah Sharief, who was married to Sharief, said he was deeply touched when he made his second pilgrimage, or Hajj, to Mecca in 2004. "It was one of the highlights of his life," she said.
Imam Kashif Abdul Karim, who is acting imam of the Hartford mosque, said services will be held at the mosque on Hungerford Street on Thursday at 1 p.m., and will be followed by burial at Muslim cemetery in Enfield.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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