Amidst all the lawsuit controversies of the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB), one of its leaders, Imam Basyouney M. Nehela, has largely ecaped notice. We know a little bit about the ISB's founder, Abdurahman Alamoudi, and about some of the ISB's trustees, including Dr. Walid Fitaihi. We read public statements from the ISB spokesman, Jessica Masse, as well as its lawyer, Howard Cooper from Todd & Weld, LLP. But we don't hear very much from the ISB's religious leader, Imam Nehela M. Basyouny. Given the legal manuevrings going on with the ISB lawsuits, I thought it worthwhile to look into Basyouny's background. I've done a little poking around, and found that the ISB's imam wears many hats indeed. Here's the first of two parts on Nehela Basyouny:
- Imam Basyouney M. Nehela came here from Egypt around 1996, and has been the ISB's imam for ten years. He reportedly came here on a visitor visa and started officiating at the ISB during Ramadan. I don't know what his current visa status is. Imams in the U.S. often are brought in from the Middle East through the religious visa program. I don't know how Nehela was selected or what organization (Muslim Supreme Council?) he came from.
- According to the MAS Boston website, Nehela received his Masters and PhD in Islamic Studies from the Al-Azhar University in Egypt. His PhD is reported to be in Da'wah, which is inviting non-Muslims to "see the truth of Islam." The Boston area was characterized by former trustee Dr. Walid Fitaihi (who worked at Harvard University) in 2001 as "a center of Islamic proselytizing aimed at Christians."
- No information was available online indicating any positions Nehela had prior to working for the ISB, or any education prior to Al-Azhar University. I did not find any information indicating what organizations he was affiliated with in Egypt. Did he have any jobs before coming here? Was he an imam anywhere else?
- His religious affiliation is not known. A Christian minister would indicate is he was Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, Trinitarian, etc. Similarly, Muslim clerics typically identify as a particular branch, Sunni or Shia, Salafi, Wahabi, Sufi, Akhwan, Deobandi, Ismaili or Ahmedi. Imam Nehela hasn't publicly mentioned his affiliation, to my knowledge.
- As indicated above, Nehela is on the Board of Directors of the Muslim American Society in Boston. He frequently appears at MAS fund-raisers and events in the area. As I've indicated before (here and here), the ISB and MAS are quite closely connected, formerly sharing office space in Cambridge, sharing an e-mail listserve, overlap of leaders and directors, jointly giving lectures and events, etc. The MAS Boston Society is registered with the state of Massachusetts as a "Non-Profit Organization" (No. 000879500)." Basyouny is also head of Tarbiya for MAS Boston.
- Curiously, there is also a separate organization called MAS Boston, No. 0007557756, which is listed as a "Religious" entity. Hmmm, why are there two MAS Boston organizations? I've wondered how it is that a religious organization can be as heavily involved in political lobbying and affairs as the MAS is. For example, MAS organized the Dawah Day at the State House, held training sessions on political activity at mosques in Cambridge and Lowell, sent e-mail notices directing people to contact representatives on issues related to Israel/Palestine, as well as e-mails directing people to write letters to a judge in support of convicted terrorist Sami Al-Arian. That's quite an overlap of religion, politics and foreign policy. I'm not sure what distinguishes these two Boston MAS organizations in practice.
OK, there's much more material to cover. I'll post Part Two later on with the other affiliations that Imam Basyouny has in addition to his work with the ISB.