Babylon & Beyond

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SAUDI ARABIA: All in the Family

December 13, 2007 | 12:30 pm

Qazwinis_3 The Hajj this year is an extended family reunion for Imam Moustafa Al Qazwini, leader of the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa.

His brother Mohammed, an imam in San Diego, is here; so are his sons Hadi and Mahdi, who are both studying in the seminaries of Qom in Iran. His father Mortada, who served at a mosque in Pomona for more than a decade and moved to Karbala after the fall of Saddam Hussein, has come to Mecca as well.

Qazwini comes from a family of "sayyids," the honorific bestowed on those who trace their lineage back to the prophet Muhammad through his daughter Fatima.

Religious service is in the Qazwini blood. Moustafa al Qazwini’s grandfather died in an Iraqi prison after a crackdown on rebellious Shiite imams. In 1971, when Moustafa was nine, his father fled Iraq with his family — one step ahead of a government execution order. Eventually the elder Qazwini settled in Pomona.

The Qazwinis have become possibly the preeminent Shiite religious family in the United States.
Of the six Qazwini brothers, four are imams in the U.S. and a fifth is completing his religious studies in Karbala. The sixth brother is the odd one out, a professor of biochemistry in the United Arab Emirates.

Now a third generation of Qazwinis is carrying on the family tradition.

“You’re exposed to it at a young age,” said Mahdi Qazwini, 20, who spent a year at Mt. San Antonio College and thought about studying law before deciding to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“You see your father and your uncles and your cousins and everybody doing it, and it does encourage you,” he said.  “When you’re part of a sayyid family, you do feel a little obliged to serve.”

Blog Mapper: Tracking the Hajj

— Ashraf Khalil in Mecca

Photo: From left, Mahdi, Moustafa, Hadi and Mohammed Al Qazwini in Mecca