Ahmad Hashimi rests on a couch in a comfortable, cream-colored robe. His feet are bare, and a black cylindrical hat sits atop his head hiding his straight dark hair that is flecked with gray.
His bushy, black beard ends in tiny, kinky curls, accentuating his round face.
But Hashimi's most striking features are his eyes. There is a certain peacefulness and wisdom in his half-opened hazel eyes that betrays this spiritual leader's age of 34 years.
These are the eyes of a much older mystic. Perhaps they are the eyes of his father, a Sufi scholar.
There is hope in these eyes and a sense of purpose. As the new imam of the Lodi Muslim Mosque, Hashimi represents a chance to heal a community still reeling from two deported imams and a terrorism investigation.
"I came here to preach Islam and paint a very lovely and tolerant picture of Islam," Hashimi says in a slow, soothing tone with a thick south Asian accent. "A time will come when this mosque will be a model mosque in America."
He peppers his speech with scholarly words and cites Goethe and the Sufi poet, Rumi.
Hashimi's eyes serenely scan the Spartan living room of his new house. He arrived here from Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, less than two weeks ago leaving behind a wife and two young children. This small house next to the Eastside mosque will be his home for what mosque leaders hope will be at least three years, and his family may join him here.
Besides the couch, a few chairs sit in the corner of the room. A low table rests atop an ornately woven rug. On the table are a stack of Islamic books, including the Quran, and a string of prayer beads.
Three imams have left Lodi's mosque since 2005. Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammad Adil Khan were arrested on immigration charges and later deported. Ahmed was on an FBI watch list for making anti-American speeches in Pakistan. The third imam, Cassim Maiter, left because of a contract dispute in December 2005 after only two weeks.
Hashimi is the mosque's first imam since then and the first Lodi imam from the Sufi tradition of Islam. Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam with a philosophy rooted in peace, love and tolerance of other religions.
"My true nature is love toward God and humanity," Hashimi says. "Sufism accepts every person whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim."
Hashimi was born in Mansehra, a rugged frontier town in the mountains of northern Pakistan. In the tradition of his father, the head of a post-graduate college, Hashimi began studying philosophy, eventually earning a master's degree from Peshwar University.
When Lodi Muslim Mosque president Mohammed Shoaib visited Pakistan last year, he found Hashimi teaching at a post-graduate university.
"When I first met him, I knew he could help us here in Lodi," Shoaib says. "I am very much impressed with him."
Since arriving in Lodi, Hashimi has heard about the mosque's recent imam troubles. He also learned about the 2005 investigation and 2006 trial of two Lodi Muslims on terrorism related charges.
Hashimi said he realizes the challenge of gaining the trust of the Muslim community and the greater Lodi community as a whole, but he has already begun the process.
"I am very against these activities because the spirit of Islam is very peaceful and tolerant," he says. "We should spread the teachings of peace."
Mosque secretary Adur Lugmani says Hashimi is already drawing more worshipers to the mosque, especially young Muslims, who could be positively influenced by his teachings.
"Before him, we didn't have a good imam because they had limited educations," Lugmani says. "Now we have a great man. We hope he will be a sufficient role model for our youth."
Indeed, about 50 Muslim men fill the mosque at the start of Hashimi's on Friday afternoon sermon. As he speaks, more trickle in until about 200 worshipers in light-colored robes and white skull caps pack the mosque to hear Hashimi's message.
"In a meeting, we tried hard to work out our problems," Mosque President Mohammed Shoaib said Friday. "All the problems have been resolved by mutual understanding. We are happy. This is a very good thing."
The three-year rift stemmed from a legal dispute over land that was to become an Islamic school. A 200-member group broke away from the mosque and started worshipping at a local church.
Since the dispute ended in August, both sides of the Muslim community are again praying at the Eastside mosque, according to Taj Khan, who had prayed at the church with the breakaway group.
"We have reconciled and resolved our issues and are moving on," Khan said. "Most of the people that didn't go to the mosque are now coming back."
- News-Sentinel staff
After the death of Islam's founder, Muhammad, Sufism arose as an organized movement among different groups who found orthodox Islam to be spiritually stifling.
The practices of contemporary Sufi orders and suborders vary, but most include the recitation of the name of God or of certain phrases from the Quran as a way to loosen the bonds of the lower self, enabling the soul to experience the higher reality toward which it naturally aspires.
Though Sufi practitioners have often been at odds with the mainstream of Islamic theology and law, the importance of Sufism in the history of Islam is incalculable. Sufi literature, especially love poetry, represents a golden age in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu languages.
Source: Encyclopedia Britannia
Seated in an ornate, gold-painted chair, Hashimi delivers his oration in a commanding, yet measured voice. During the 30-minute lecture in Urdu, Pakistan's native language, many in the audience nod and mumble in agreement. Afterward, he summarizes his lecture in English.
"The best of you are those that are well mannered," he says. "We should understand that the Islamic code of ethics is very firm and we should adopt this ethical code."
At the end of the prayer, mosque members praise the new imam's intellect.
"He's a good man and intelligent," Mike Mikbel says. "He speaks English, Urdu and Arabic, so he will be good for the people to learn from."
Zamarad Khan says: "He's a true scholar."
Hashimi, who enjoys a game of badminton or table tennis when he is not reading religious works, has already visited some local sites including the library and the Galt flea market. He says he likes what he has seen of the Lodi area.
"The atmosphere is very pleasant and it is a very beautiful place," he says. "The people are very peaceful."
In his first two weeks in America, Hashimi says he can see the differences between preaching Islam in Pakistan and this country, where Muslims comprise the minority.
"This is a different community from Pakistan," he says. "I think we are have difficulty (in America) presenting the true picture of Islam. I think we should get back to the spiritual message of Islam."