From imam to community leader
YACINE SIMPORÉ Special to the AmNews | 1/4/2012, 6:36 p.m.
With his eyes shut and his soothing voice, Imam Souleimane Konate shows how passionate he is about his role in the community.
His aim is to present the real face of Islam far from all the prejudices that have been spreading since 2001. He also shows how his title of imam and vice president of Harlem Islamic Leadership are keys to giving an important helping hand to the community.
Originally from Ivory Coast, Konate was raised by his imam father and uncles, and had a chance to learn Arabic when he was a child.
"Islamic culture was the essence of my education," said Konate. " When I grew up, I also had the curiosity to learn about the other religions and I took classes to know the Bible."
With a good knowledge of Arabic and encouraged by his entourage, Konate decided when he was 23 to leave his country and deepen his knowledge of Islamic culture.
"Most of the things I know now, I learned in Egypt. It was a rich experience for me. I was young and I left everything behind me to learn about the history, the basics of the religion I adore. "
After a few years spent in Egypt, even though he learned many things, Konate nonetheless had the feeling that he needed to continue his journey.
"At this moment, I had a good knowledge of the culture, but I needed to learn how to communicate with the people to deliver the message of religion and explain to people how it helps bind communities in the world."
With an ambition to learn how to approach people and gain and keep their attention, Konate decided to go to Saudi Arabia, where he studied journalism and communication and got his master's degree.
Twelve years later, he still had a feeling of incompletion. "I had always dreamt of achieving my [goals] in America."
So, he says, he needed to go overseas, not to live a certain American dream, but to learn the methods that make America one of the leaders in the world of communication.
When he arrived in the United States, Konate encountered difficulties in pursuing his studies because he was undocumented. He decided to settle in Harlem, where the African Muslim community was established and growing. By getting involved and becoming committed to the people, he became an imam 12 years ago. Providing financial, psychological, social and other types of support, his Masjid Aqsa Mosque has become a real community shelter.
"Being an imam is the best award that I could have. I am committed to my people by pleasure, and at the same time I think helping one another is so natural. People come see me crying with their concerns and go back with a smile. I could not be happier."
Knowing that the ability to help people around him also depends on decisions that come from the top, Konate found it important to build relationships with politicians and city agencies. These ambitions also led him to mobilize the community during Barack Obama's campaign in 2008.
"Barack Obama is our brother, our son. If changes can be done for our communities, he is the only one who can make it," he said. After the campaign, Konate received thanks from Obama for his support.
His goal is not to preach Islam as the best religion, but to destroy the fear that some American people have because they don't understand it.
"Those who condemn Islam are those who do not understand it. Islam is all about peace and loving each other," said Konate. "Those who use the name of Islam to do terrorism are those who do not understand it. People should not assimilate terrorism with Islam. In each religion, there are bad and good people."
Konate is convinced that Islam and religion in general is the solution for anything. In a speech at the United Nations last year, he said, "If all the religious leaders find common solutions, this would change the world."