A group of Muslim youths accused the United States most senior Shiite cleric Hassan Qazwini of the embezzlement of Arab donations and called for the immediate return of the stolen money.
Shiite Muslims gathered at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan where they attended the memorial of the late Lebanese cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.
On their way out, they found a statement signed by a group that calls itself the Muslim Youth Congregation posted on the windshields of their cars, accusing prominent Iraqi-born cleric Hassan Qazwini, director of the Shiite dominated center, of embezzlement.
According to the statement, Qazwini collected donations from the Arab community in the United States and transferred them to his father's company in California.
The statement called upon Qazwini to immediately return the money, estimated at $350,000, to the center and laid the blame on the center's Board of Trustees for the negligence that allowed Qazwini to get away with stealing the money.
The Muslim Youth Congregation also accused Qazwini of slamming supporters of Fadlallah and ordering Shiites not to take him as a role model.
Arab residents of Dearborn said they are not familiar with the group that signed the statement and attributed the accusation to internal disputes between Qazwini and members of the center's Board of Trustees.
According to sources from the center, there have been attempts to remove Qazwini from his post, yet they all failed since he had the support of Shiite youths, also called The Youth Movement.
Qazwini's popularity, sources added, is basically due to his ability to preach in English, in addition to Arabic, which is not the case with several Shiite clerics in the United States. This, naturally, increased the number of his supporters.
Qazwini vehemently denied all the accusations leveled against him and said that the 350,000 dollar amount is in the center with all the relevant documents and payment receipts.
"I am going to submit all the documents that prove the falsity of these accusations," he told Arab-American press in Dearborn.
As for transferring donations, Qazwinin admitted to sending an amount, a quarter of the sum mentioned in the statement, to orphans in the Iraqi city of Karbala and specifically to a charity organization run by his father.
"I am not sending money to Iraq because I am Iraqi, but because there are around five million orphans in Iraq and the government only supported 597 of them according to a UNICEF report issued two years ago."
Qazwini added that transferring the money was done with the knowledge of the center's members and Board of Trustees and that his father's organization, called al-Imam al-Sadeq, is licensed and registered in the United States under Development and Relief Foundation.
"I gave a receipt to every single person who donated and all those receipts are registered."
Relationship with Fadlallah
Similarly, Qazwini denied the statements allegations regarding his remarks about Fadlallah and stressed that he had a very special relationship with the late cleric.
"Fadlallah's advisor once told me that he considered me his son and he was a very good friend of my father Moustafa al-Qazwini. I also used to see him whenever I went to Lebanon."
Qazwini said he was supposed to travel, but cancelled his plans when he got the news of Fadlallah's death so he could take part in the memorial where he highly praised the Lebanese cleric.
"He even praised me in a T.V. interview five years ago. I still have the video in the center."
Qazwini challenged the group behind the statement to present proof of their accusations and slammed them for choosing such a cheap way of slandering him and using the name of a venerated cleric like Fadlallah in propagating falsities and ruining people's reputations.
The group that signed the statement remains unknown yet the method to which they resorted in order to circulate their statement managed to grab the attention of the entire Arab community in Michigan and the news has become the talk of the town.
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)