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A Muslim American Visionary: Omar Ahmad (1965-2011)

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This post was co-authored by Hussein Rashid

Last week we spoke of Osama bin Laden, a man who represented no one and offered nothing but hate. How many other people died that day, their death unnoticed and unmarked?

This week, we lost a real Muslim leader, a man who offered hope, compassion, love, humor, and most importantly, friendship. Omar Ahmad, the Mayor of San Carlos, California, was a real American leader who was also Muslim. He represented more than himself; he was the voice of his community -- a community comprised of all the people who came into contact with him. As mayor he had constituents; he was also a man who had many friends. We can only begin by listing the traits that made him a 21st-century Hemingway.

Omar Ahmad: Mayor of San Carlos; lover of fine cigars; spinner of great yarns; Silicon Valley entrepreneur; passionate aviator; mountain climber; cowboy boot aficionado; leader; visionary; friend.

Death did not take him today; instead, we prefer to say that he was just too much for life.

He would chide us that we should never speak of "Muslim" and "non-Muslim." He said, "I prefer 'Neighbor.'"

Omar was quintessentially American. Born of immigrant parents from Pakistan, he helped to shape the technological world in which we live. He worked at a high-level position at Grand Central (now Google Voice), Netscape, and Napster. He once said that when the order came to close Napster as a file-sharing service, he was the one who had to "pull the plug."

Despite his technological wizardry, he was firmly committed to building his community the old-fashioned way, by getting to know you. He says on his website, "If you ever have questions regarding who I am or what I believe, please feel free to ask me. It will be through open dialog that we will get to know each other!" He leveraged his good-natured spirit in politics, and was elected to the City Council of San Carlos, and from there, to the Mayor's Office. In that position, he did what every American mayor does, he fought with the Firemen's Union.

In all his activities, he remained committed to his faith. He helped nurture and train Muslim-American leadership. He was a behind-the-scenes mover, who used his vast entrepreneurial experience to make sure the next generation would be able to build real, lasting community relationships with our neighbors. We admired him, not because he was Muslim, but because being Muslim made him do admirable things.

When we think of Muslim-America, we think of Omar. There was no distinction for him between his faith and his country, and he sought to do right by both. When we think of role-models for our community, we think of Omar. He gave only what was best -- and he gave it everyday for everyone, regardless of their color or religion.

But he was not bigger than life. Despite all his accomplishments, he was humble, grounded, full of conviction, congenial, and approachable. But his spirit, energy, relentless curiosity, and fierce intellect could not be anchored. What else can be said about a man who was an avatar of passion in gaudy cowboy boots?

He is a mensch to be remembered. In ten years, his passing will be remembered as the greatest loss to Muslim American leadership in 2011. He lived more in 46 years than most of us do in three lifetimes.

Most people leave us behind. He left us moving forward.

Originally published in Religion Dispatches.

Around the Web

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