A Journey of Understanding


The Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids

Imam Hassan Selim, prayer leader at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids.

Imam Hassan Selim from Cairo, Egypt, is an integral leader of the Muslim community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He leads prayers at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids and is the vice president of the Inter-religious Council of Linn County. His journey has brought him across the world where he has encountered drastic change in his life. Today, Selim hopes to teach Muslims to be comfortable with their faith and end the stereotypes they often face.

Selim was not born in The United States. At age thirteen, Selim moved with his family across Egypt to the Western Desert, a dry and rocky stretch of land in the Sahara. The only thing he had to entertain himself was reading newspapers, which helped him become more aware of the world around him.

Due to the transition in his life from an empty desert to the sleepless city of Cairo, Selim had a crisis of faith, and started to question the meaning behind everything, including his Muslim faith. The only thing that brought him back was looking at his hand, and saying to himself, “This hand must have been created by something, and that’s where I’ll start finding my faith.” With that realization, Selim recommitted his life to Islam and changed his study to religious law.

Once Selim graduated from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, he became ordained as an Imam. While working in Cairo, he fell in love with a woman from the United States who was there studying Arabic. Soon they were happily married and decided to start a family.

By 2011, life in Egypt and the Middle-East as a whole was becoming very hard. Oppressive regimes were common, and poverty was widespread. Soon came rebellions and protests, which were met with a harsh and violent response from the government, creating danger for the citizens living there. This period became known as the Arab Spring.

As conditions became increasingly dangerous, Hassan and his pregnant wife decided it would be best to leave the country. February of 2012, they moved to Cedar Rapids, where Selim’s wife had grown up to strive for a better life.

His new life in Iowa brought a difficult change: Muslims were often viewed negatively due to stereotypes. Many people associated Islam with terrorism following the 9/11 attacks. So he became determined to fix some of the problems Muslims face in society by bridging the gap left by a lack of understanding.

He is very content with his new life, because he believes he has purpose here. Now an Imam at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, he leads daily prayers and tries to help people understand their faith. He was also elected the vice president of the Inter-religious Council of Linn County, working with other faith leaders to encourage understanding, respect, and friendship among people of different faiths.

Although he has already traveled across the world, his journey is far from over. He plans to continue to help people appreciate their own religion and that of other people around them. When asked about the most important lesson he has learned from his journey, Selim said it was the importance of understanding people.

“Listen to people’s stories. Listen patiently and with compassion,” Selim said.