On the Passing of an American Muslim Hero - Imam Samuel Ansari

Imam samuel ansari

On the Passing of an American Muslim Hero - Imam Samuel Ansari

by Sheila Musaji


Yesterday, I attended a funeral for Imam Samuel Ansari at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.  The funeral was scheduled to leave the funeral home at 9:30 to travel to the cemetery, and the funeral itself was scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.  As cars continued to arrive, and fill the parking lot of the funeral home, and then line all the nearby streets, it became obvious that this was a very large turnout to honor a much respected community leader.

The procession of cars was so long that just getting everyone to the Jefferson Barracks Chapel and parked became a lengthy process.  And then as everyone walked to the Chapel, it was immediately obvious that there was no way that such a large crowd could fit into the building.

So, everyone stood outside on an unusually hot and humid day, and the Muslims in attendance lined up for the Janaza (funeral) prayer.  After the prayer, Imam Ansari, who had served in the Army in the 60’s was given military honors, including taps and a flag ceremony.

A very American funeral for a very American Muslim.  He was an African-American who had participated in the civil rights struggle, come to a deep spiritual understanding of Islam by way of first the Nation of Islam and then the Ministry of W.D. Muhammad.  He had experienced prejudice, injustice, and difficulties in life, but these had made him stronger and more compassionate.

Our Muslim communities in St. Louis include Bosnians, African-Americans, Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, Afghanis, Egyptians, Somalis, Sudanese, Iranians, Turks, Syrians, Moroccans, Yemenis, Lebanese, and probably many more.

Looking out at those in attendance, all of these were represented as well as members of other religious communities.  Members of different races, different nationalities, different religions - all there to honor this man.

Who was this man in whose honor so many came out and stood patiently in the heat?  Here are a few quotes from an interview with Imam Ansari some years ago:

“As a country, we still haven’t been able to break down barriers that allow people to respectfully and genuinely mix. You find areas that have a diversity of people, but I don’t think there’s a real mixing of people, where they really feel that they’re interacting as people.” 

“My understanding is that all of the religious scriptures say that God rewards any good that people do. Any good. I mean, if you don’t even believe in God and you do good, you treat people respectfully and you try to help them to the best of your ability, God is going to reward that.”

“To me, Islam says that there is one humanity, and if what I believe does not recognize your freedom to believe what you choose, then I need to question my belief. God gives us this freedom.”

“I think we just have to come to grips with the reality that whatever we want to believe in or practice should enhance the decency and the integrity of every human being.”

Imam Ansari worked not only to build bridges between members of different religions and races, but also between different groups of Muslims.

At the memorial service after the funeral, one person after another spoke of his kindness, his generosity, his unfailing patience with everyone, his inability to pass by anyone who needed help. 

Over the years, I attended many meetings with Imam Ansari, and he was always the voice of reason, balance, dignity, and calm.

Imam Ansari, will be missed by so many, his legacy is one of honor and decency, and striving to do our best.  His funeral represented a concrete example of the meaning of the phrase “God and Country”.  This was a man who served God by serving his family, his community, and his country, and who was honored by all of them.

 

 

Imam samuel ansari

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