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US Imam’s Life Story Filled with Humor, Hope, Mercy

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My favorite line among so many in “Cloud Miles: A Remarkable Journey of Mercy, Peace and Purpose” (2020, Nurturing Faith) is when Imam Imad Enchassi recalls receiving and responding to an ugly message posted on his Facebook page.

With typical, though inexcusable ignorance and hostility so often aimed at Muslims and immigrants, of which Imad is both, the poster urged, “Take your shania law back to islam and your dessert country.” (I added the italics.)

“I couldn’t help myself,” Imad wrote. “I had to reply, ‘Shania is a country music singer, Islam is not a country, and dessert is something you eat.’”

To meet Imad is to know a most gracious, well-humored and caring person.

To read his life story is to marvel at how he has lived through war, ongoing discrimination and the travails of a refugee – and done so with great success and, what’s more important, with mercy and love beyond degree.

The book includes Imad’s dramatic, firsthand account of going from a suspect (John Mo no. 2) to a community healer following the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

April 19 will mark the 25th anniversary of that cowardly attack that killed 168 people, including 19 children in a daycare.

Imad Enchassi, who holds a doctorate, is senior imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, the chair of Islamic Studies at Oklahoma City University and visiting professor at two Christian theology schools.

In 2010, he was named a “Religious Visionary of the Year” by the Daily Oklahoman.

He has founded several charitable and educational organizations in Oklahoma City – named for the Catholic nun who taught him as a refugee.

Of her, he writes, “Although I was not a Christian, Ms. Rahma had shown me what it meant to be one.”

His compassion and ecumenism grew out of his upbringing in a war zone where he survived the 1982 Sabra and Shatila Massacre in Beirut.

“When you grow up in a war zone, you will come to school and see empty desks with pictures of your classmates sitting on top. This means your friends are casualties of war,” he writes. “Funny they call the dead in war ‘casualties’ as though there is something casual about it. It is shocking every time.”

He added that certain words should not go together. “I did not have much education back then, but I knew ‘civil’ and ‘war’ were words that should cancel each other out.”

Former Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry called Imad “a master of storytelling and finding common ground among people of all faiths.”

Henry called the newly released Cloud Miles “a compelling read that made me think more critically about relationships and, at times, made me laugh out loud and moved me to tears. I highly recommend this book.”

The mixture of tears and laughter flow from Imad recounting stories of family members who were forced from their homes but not from hope; his boyish encounter with bigger-than-life visitor, Muhammad Ali; his compassionate response as a White Helmet volunteer when surrounded by carnage and death; and saying goodbye to family at age 17 to find new life and a new mission of mercy and peace in the United States.

“Through it all, he finds the best in other people, and makes us laugh at the same time,” said Robin R. Meyers, author of several books including “Saving Jesus from the Church” and “Saving God from Religion.”

“If you want to feel better about the human spirit and truly understand the faith of our Muslim sisters and brothers, then read this book, and then get to know your neighbors,” Meyers said. “Nothing would please my favorite imam more.”

Editor’s note: A version of this review first appeared on Pierce’s Nurturing Faith blog. It is used with permission. “Cloud Miles: A Remarkable Journey of Mercy, Peace and Purpose” is available now from Nurturing Faith. Click here to order. An EthicsDaily.com video production, “Mercy,” which shares portions of Enchassi’s experience growing up as a refugee in Beirut, is available here.

John D. Pierce

John D. Pierce is executive editor / publisher at Nurturing Faith Journal and Bible Studies (formerly Baptists Today).