The Islamic Society of North America, one of the most visible Muslim organizations in the United States, has appointed Chicago lawyer and youth leader Safaa Zarzour as its next secretary general.
Zarzour's appointment comes on the heels of several terror-related incidents involving young Muslims that have cast suspicion on Muslim Americans and provoked concerns about Muslim youth being vulnerable to Islamic extremist propaganda.
Zarzour, 45, acknowledged concerns about extremists preying on young Muslim Americans, and said Muslim parents and religious leaders needed to better engage younger Muslims.
"We need to have the ability to pay attention to our youth, and make sure they aren't being swayed by influences that our contrary to Islam,"
he said. "We need better training of our own cadre of imams who can contextualize Islam in terms of the American experience."
Born in Syria before moving to the United States in the mid-1980s, Zarzour has more than 10 years experience as a teacher and principal at Universal School in Chicago, one of the largest Islamic schools in the United States. He currently chairs the Council of Islamic Schools of North America, an association of 50 schools and organizations.
Unlike other well-known Muslim groups that focus on civil rights issues, the Plainfield, Ind.-based ISNA deals with education, youth, and community organizing.
Zarzour said his main responsibility will be to advise and support the work of Ingrid Mattson, a Canadian-born convert who was elected ISNA's first female president in 2006.
"I am particularly optimistic that his commitment to the formation of responsible and engaged American Muslim youth will help ISNA develop more services responding to their needs and ample potential," she said in a statement.
Zarzour has taught Islamic law at Loyola University Law School, and has served in his local community of Bridgeview, Ill., as a zoning commissioner and in other public and philanthropic positions.
He has also participated in the Mid-Atlantic Muslim-Catholic Dialogue, and was a member of the Bernadine Center at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He replaces Muneer Fareed, an Islamic Studies professor who resigned his position in late 2008.