American-Born Imam Leads Diverse Daytona Beach Community

July 18, 2006

Source: News-Journal

On July 18, 2006 the News-Journal reported, "For much of its 30-year history, the Muslim community here has relied on foreign-born religious leaders. Ron Smith, the new imam of the Islamic Center of Daytona Beach, at the mosque Wednesday. This summer, Muslims have begun listening to the sermons of a 29-year-old who likes to play video games and root for the Washington Redskins. With an American birthplace, Ron Smith is not subjected to the same worries of Muslim immigrants in this anxious age after 9-11. 'If they deport me, they'll have to send me back to New Jersey,' joked Smith about his home state. Criteria for imams -- Islamic religious leaders -- are not formalized, but the Islamic Center of Daytona Beach has usually chosen imams on the basis of their religious knowledge and ability to speak Arabic and English. The main Friday sermon is given in both languages. Trying to hire an imam suitable to both Arabic- and English-speaking audiences has always been a tricky balance, said Idris Muhammad, a trustee of the local mosque. The English of foreign-born imams has not always been as good as their Arabic or else they have spoken in unfamiliar Arabic dialects, Muhammad said. As a consequence, 'part of the community has felt left out at times,' he said. 'It's like a Northerner going to a Southern barbecue.' The local Muslim community is extremely diverse with members coming from the Middle East, the Balkan states and the South Pacific. The mosque on Keech Street attracts about 300 people on Fridays, Muslims' main day of worship. But on major holidays, the mosque will get as many as 600 to 800 people... Born to a Puerto Rican mother, a Catholic, and a Baptist African-American father, Smith is well suited as a community bridge builder."