Two Boys Take Up Role of Imam After South African Cleric Denied Entry to US

October 1, 2006

Source: The Washington Post

On October 1, 2006 The Washington Post reported, "The boy, round-faced and thin, stood in front of the hundred or so men, his arms crossed, his eyes closed. When he knelt, they knelt. When he stood, they stood. When he stumbled for a word, squinting to access the search engine of his mind, they waited. In a few hours, 13-year-old Aman Chhipa would be back at home sitting in front of his computer playing a video game, pretending he was a knight slaying giant spiders with a gem-laden sword. But at that moment, and for an hour each night this month, he is a boy leading a room full of men. Aman and another teenager, Uzair Jawed, 16, were thrust into the revered role of imam, or prayer leader, at the Islamic Community Center of Northern Virginia, mostly out of desperation. A cleric from South Africa was supposed to lead the center's nightly prayer for Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, as he had done for the past three years. But after Ismail Mullah arrived at Dulles International Airport on Sept. 22, he was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials and sent back to South Africa. The center, in Woodbridge, had prepared for months for Mullah's arrival and had paid thousands of dollars for his airfare. Without him, its leaders had less than a day to find a hafiz -- someone who had memorized the more than 6,200 Arabic verses of the Koran and could recite them without looking at the text. They searched among the adults. No one. They called other mosques. No one.They then turned to the two boys, the only ones among them who had mastered the text enough to guide the congregation through the 30 sections in 30 days. The Koran is divided into 114 chapters containing more than 6,200 verses comprising about 80,000 words. It is like learning part of the Bible in Latin when you don't speak Latin."