Rahmetli Imam Vehbi Ismail (1919-2008)
The Center for Islamic Pluralism has received news of the death of rahmetli Imam Vehbi Ismail, the leader of Albanian Muslims of North America, and a distinguished Shkodran from northern Albania. In the words of an Albanian-American writer, Gary Kokalari, "Imam Vehbi was a holy man, an Albanian man, a family man, a wise man, a tolerant man, an intelligent man, a gracious man, a noble man, a humble man, and he was a man who, some may be surprised to learn, had a great sense of humor. But he was not a judgmental man, he always told me that only Allah can judge our actions. Imam often stayed with my family when he visited New York, and I remember him as I would remember an uncle. Imam Vehbi was responsible for establishing the first mosque for Albanians in New York, and I am proud to be able to say that my father was among the circle of Albanians who helped the Imam plant these seeds for New York's Albanian American community. My family has lost a great friend and we will miss him, but his memory will remain in our hearts forever."
Rahmetli Imam Vehbi Ismail was born on November 25, 1919 in Shkoder, Albania. He pursued his studies at the Islamic Seminary in Tirana, the capital of Albania, and in 1937 moved to Egypt to further his studies at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. When Albania was taken over by the Communists at the end of the second world war, his father, who was a Mufti, advised him not to return. During his stay in Egypt he became a prolific writer on Islamic topics and translated many literary works from Albanian into Arabic.
In 1949 rahmetli Imam Vehbi came to the United States to take his place as the religious leader of the Albanian Muslim Community in Detroit, Michigan. There he established the first Albanian Mosque and Islamic Center in the United States and became the editor of the two quarterly Islamic journals, Albanian Muslim Life and Muslim Life, the latter as the organ of The Federation of Islamic Associations in the USA and Canada. During those years he wrote and translated more than twenty five books, printed in Albanian, and including Muhammad: The Last Prophet. In 1993 Imam Vehbi was chosen as the President of the Albanian Muslim Communities of the USA and Canada, an organization that comprises twelve Albanian Islamic Centers in North America.
Rahmetli imam Vehbi Ismail was also a generous friend of the Bektashi Sufi community in Michigan.
CIP calls for recitations of Fatiha for rahmetli Imam Vehbi Ismail.