Editor’s note: People of Faith is an occasional feature highlighting leaders of various segments of the area’s faith community.
Seven-year-old Zulkifly Yusuf and his family fled from his native Cambodia and the communist regime of Pol Pot in 1978, navigating around land mines as they literally ran for their lives.
Yusuf still recalls flashes of such hardship. And it has marked his passion to build bridges with those who might be different from him.
“Most of the issues with hatred and the idea that one group of people is superior to another are very sad things to see in the world today,” said the 41-year-old Yusuf, who moved from Sheffield, England, with his wife and four children 18 months ago to take a new engineering role with Cummins Inc.
He was recently elected as new president of the 150-member-and-growing Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana, which just paid off its mosque at 2310 Chestnut St. Part of his mission: Help Bartholomew County residents “to better understand Islam and what we teach.”
That especially includes its stance on anti-terrorism and anti-jihad, which still surface from visitors’ queries during mosque open-house sessions.
We caught up with Yusuf at the society’s facility following noon Friday prayer, the Muslims’ prime worship time, featuring an English sermon on “Dispelling Anxiety” and readings in Arabic from the Quran. He spoke about the organization and his role.
The mosque here reflects tremendous diversity, doesn’t it?
There are probably 10 to 15 languages spoken by members.
And the mosque has become a stop-off point for prayer even for Muslims driving, say, between Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee?
Yes. They find us on the Internet. Even if people are traveling, they still have a need to pray (as part of a commitment to pray five times daily). This is more comfortable for people.
Isn’t it tough to work in your main worship on Friday afternoon, especially amid a busy workday?
It’s a day of worship. But at the same time, instruction in the Quran tells us after prayer to go to work (and apply the instruction).
What is a simple fact you would like people to know about your faith?
In Islam, there is a no strange mystique. And Muslims are a peace-loving people.
What does the Islamic society hope to do in the future?
We want to reach out more to the community. Last fall, we did a food drive for the United Way of Bartholomew County. That kind of activity is what I want to increase and do more of. And I definitely want to increase the participation among the members so we can do a lot more programs.
I see a real need to step up and find ways to engage people (here at the mosque). When people are more engaged with their faith, they are more likely to reach out to their community.