LI Muslim leader giving Congress invocation

Nayyar Imam, the chaplain of the Suffolk County Nayyar Imam, the chaplain of the Suffolk County Police Department will give the prayer invocation in the U.S. House of representatives on Thursday. (July 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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For the first time, a Muslim from Long Island will give the prayer invocation in Congress, officials said Monday.

Nayyar Imam, 57, who also is the first-ever Muslim chaplain for the Suffolk County Police Department, said he is doing the invocation on Thursday in the House partly to break another barrier.

"I'm excited. I'm proud of it," said Imam, a Mount Sinai resident. "It's an honor for the community."

Imam, who is active in a mosque in Selden and a new one going up in Mount Sinai, arranged for his appearance through Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton). Bishop's office said Imam is the first Muslim from Nassau or Suffolk to deliver the invocation.

"I am pleased to welcome Nayyar Imam to Washington as a distinguished representative of eastern Long Island's vibrant Muslim-American community," Bishop said.

Religious figures from various faiths deliver an opening prayer before Congress every day it is in session, said Oliver Longwell, a spokesman for Bishop.

Imam, who a decade ago became the first Muslim to serve on the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, said he has long wanted to say the prayer before Congress, and accelerated his efforts this year. In May, he had something of a practice run when he delivered the invocation at Suffolk County Community College's graduation.

He already has his short prayer written out, and it makes only one direct reference to Islam, when he quotes the Prophet Muhammad, who said, "The leaders of a people are representation of their deeds."

Imam plans to pray, "God Almighty, we ask that You bestow upon all of our elected officials, guidance and patience, required to carry out the solemn task of legislation before them."

The prayer must be approved ahead of time by the congressional chaplain's office. Imam said the office made only one request of the first draft he submitted -- that he make it shorter to fit the maximum allowed word count.

Imam said he expected a few people to criticize his appearance before Congress, but that in general his invocation underscores the greatness of the United States. "This is the beauty of this country -- real religious freedom," he said.

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