"At the pulpit of an inner-city Chicago mosque, the tall blond imam begins preaching in his customary fashion, touching on the Los Angeles Lakers victory the night before, his own gang involvement as a teenager, a TV soap opera and then the Day of Judgment.
'Yesterday we watched the best of seven. ... Unfortunately we forget the big final; it's like that show 'One Life to Live,'' Imam Suhaib Webb says as sleepy boys and young men come to attention in the back rows. 'There's no overtime, bro.'
The sermon is typical of Webb, a charismatic Oklahoma-born convert to Islam with a growing following among American Muslims, especially the young.
He sprinkles his public addresses with as many pop culture references as Quranic verses and sayings from the prophet. He says it helps him connect with his mainly U.S.-born flock.
'Are we going to reach them with an Arab message or with a Pakistani message? Or are we going to reach them with an American message?' asks Webb, 38, of Santa Clara, Calif. He is a resident scholar and educator with the Bay Area chapter of the nonprofit Muslim American Society, but reaches others in lectures and through his popular website, which he calls a 'virtual mosque.'
Webb is at the forefront of a movement to create an American-style Islam, one that is true to the Quran and Islamic law but that reflects this country's customs and culture.
...Imams need to be culturally relevant, Webb says. When young men ask his advice on becoming religious leaders themselves, he tells them, 'Go watch 'Nick at Nite' for a year.'
'He's the most approachable imam in the U.S.,' says Nour Mattar, founder of the country's first Muslim radio station. 'And he's not boring to listen to, that's huge.'"
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