Hundreds At Funeral Services Hear Praise Of Qasim Sharief
May 5, 2006
By FRANCES GRANDY TAYLOR, Courant Staff Writer
In death, as in life, Imam Qasim Sharief brought people together. Hundreds wedged into every available space at the Muhammad Islamic Center Thursday afternoon to honor Sharief, who died Tuesday.
The crowd at the mosque on Hungerford Street in Hartford included civic leaders, people from a variety of faiths and Muslims from across the state.
Many members of the Islamic Center, which Sharief led for 18 years, knelt on the floor as prayers were recited during the funeral service. Sharief's body lay wrapped in a black-and-gold tapestry embroidered with verses from the Koran. Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez, the Rev. Cornel West, Bishop Raul Gonzalez of Glory Chapel Cathedral and Hartford Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett were among those who attended.
Before the service, the Rev. Stephen Sidorak, executive director of the Christian Conference of Connecticut, recalled that the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Sharief attended an interfaith prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.
"I have a profound appreciation for what he did that day," Sidorak said. Sharief had called for interreligious understanding and reconciliation, and also spoke in defense of the American Muslim community.
"After that," Sidorak said, "he convened a meeting of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders at the mosque. I think it was a bold thing for him to do, very courageous on his part. He very much wanted to establish a dialogue."
Sidorak called Sharief a personal friend and a colleague who served with him on the Connecticut Council for Interreligous Understanding.
"He always had an idea and he always wanted to implement it immediately," Sidorak said. "When we last spoke, we were talking about making a renewed commitment to tackling violence in Hartford and the urban centers in Connecticut. Now that is something that will remain unfinished."
Friends and family members said that Sharief, 54, had been ill for several months, and in recent weeks had turned leadership of the mosque over to acting Imam Kashif Abdul Karim. Sharief was stoic and private about his illness, they said, and he tried to maintain his schedule until he was hospitalized for the last time eight weeks ago.
Jim Friedman, also a member of the interreligious council, recalled Sharief's visit to Congregation Beth Israel after Sept. 11 and their work together over the years.
"I have a real sense of personal loss," Friedman said. "He really reached across a lot of communities, both racially and interfaith, in an unusually warm, caring and sensitive way. He embraced all of us."
Ali Antar, leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Hartford in Berlin, said Sharief was a "unifying power for the Muslim community."
"He was always there confronting the issues," Antar said. "He was like a brother to me. It's very tragic. It's a loss for Muslims, and for Connecticut."
Sharief, a convert to Islam, was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., came to Hartford in 1977 and worked at Electric Boat. He became imam of the Hartford mosque in 1988. Over the years he was on the board of Hartford Seminary, and a member of the New England Council of Masjids and the Islamic Council of New England. He also was on the staff of the Central Connecticut State University Campus Ministry and the first Hartford police Islamic chaplain.
Sharief made his first pilgrimage to Mecca in 1977 and a second in 2004. Dr. Reza Mansoor, a longtime friend and member of the Islamic Center, made the 2004 hajj with Sharief.
"He was such a vibrant personality," Mansoor said. "He was a leader in every way, very humble and inspiring. If he joined your cause, it would not be a failure."
After the service at the mosque, mourners proceeded to the Islamic cemetery in Enfield for Sharief's burial ceremony. His body, wrapped in a white sheet, was lowered into the ground and a simple wooden coffin was placed over it. Several dozen men who stood around the gravesite then used shovels and their hands to cover the coffin. Imam Mohammed Haidara, leader of the Islamic Center of Connecticut in Windsor, said prayers in Arabic and English.
Sadjah Sharief, who was married to the imam for nearly 20 years, said one of the things her husband was most proud of "was being the imam of such a wonderfully diverse Islamic community."
"We are like a mini-United Nations, with people from all over the Muslim world," she said.
Lisa Kling, a member of Muhammad Islamic Center, watched the burial ceremony.
"I just can't imagine the mosque without him," she said. "I miss him."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at