Obituary: Syed Farooq Hussaini / Inspiring spokesman for the Pittsburgh Islamic community
Syed Farooq Hussaini, director of interfaith relations for the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, died Sunday after a long battle with kidney disease. He was 50.
Diminutive, gregarious and an always approachable spokesman for a community sometimes reticent in the post-9/11 era, Mr. Hussaini was remembered by colleagues and friends across the religious divide as a spokesman who eschewed any hint of stridency for the belief that goodwill would overcome differences.
Yesterday, at the center's Oakland mosque, followers of the world's three major religions -- Muslims, Jews and Christians -- filled the room for a funeral service in which Mr. Hussaini was praised as a man whose faith transcended religious boundaries.
"We have lost a towering figure of faith," said Rabbi Jamie Gibson of Temple Sinai, a close friend of Mr. Hussaini and one of two non-Muslim clergymen to speak at yesterday's funeral. "I was never with him that my heart was not lifted."
The Rev. Ronald Lengwin, director of communications for the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, called Mr. Hussaini "a gentle man in the classic sense of the term." He called Mr. Hussaini, "a gift to the Christian community."
A frequent lecturer on Islam, he served on the Religious Leadership Forum of Southwestern Pennsylvania and was a member of the Daughters and Sons of Abraham program at Carlow University.
Born in Hyderabad, India, Mr. Hussaini -- who generally went by his middle name, Farooq -- came to the United States in 1985 after spending several years in both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. He became a U.S. citizen in 1991. With his wife, Karen Muchow Hussaini, he resided in Avalon.
When he decided to settle in the United States, Mr. Hussaini said, his father urged him to promote understanding among religions. In his native country, the Muslim minority often faces discrimination, and religiously inspired violence between Hindus and Muslims has been a recurring problem.
After a lukewarm response to his proposal to teach the region's Christians and Jews about the meaning of Islam, Mr. Hussaini was confronted -- 10 years after becoming a citizen -- with the world-changing event of the terrorist attacks on New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.
"Sept. 11 happened. I was numb," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a 2002 interview. At the time, he chided many in his own community for their reluctance to reach out in years past. Requests arrived for a speaker who could tell audiences whether the 9/11 hijackers truly reflected the world view of Islam.
"The sad part, that hurts me so much, is that I saw Islam as a beautiful religion. I saw my parents forgiving and caring and sharing," Mr. Hussaini said.
Mr. Hussaini continued with that message, seeking to explain Islam as a peaceful belief system, despite growing medical problems.
After two kidney transplants failed, Mr. Hussaini relied on regular dialysis to maintain himself.
"Dialysis gives me a lot of time to think. I can contemplate life and the beauty of life. I can cry alone when there is no one to look. I can pray alone," he said. "I keep telling myself yes, you have a physical ailment, but you should never have a spiritual ailment. You should never hate anybody."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Hussaini is survived by five brothers, Ayub, Khalid and Akheel, all of Hyderabad, Shakeel of Riyad, Saudi Arabia, and Adil, of San Jose, Calif.; and two sisters, Salma Siddiqui of Melbourne, Australia, and Asra Hussaini, of Frankfurt, Germany.
First Published May 20, 2008 12:00 am