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Funeral for Muslim activist Ghazi Khankan

People observe the funeral of Muslim leader Ghazi

People observe the funeral of Muslim leader Ghazi Y. Khankan. (April 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

They formed rows 50 people across, filling the parking lot at the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury. Before them, a plain wood coffin was draped with a green blanket inscribed with writings from the Quran.

In the largest funeral in the mosque's 28-year history, and possibly the largest Islamic funeral ever on Long Island, more than 1,000 people -- Roman Catholic priests, rabbis and Lutheran ministers among them -- paid tribute Friday to longtime Muslim activist Ghazi Khankan.

"He was an icon," said Faroque A. Khan, a former chairman of the mosque's board. "He left the footprints for the community to follow. He was way ahead of everyone else."

Khankan, a Long Beach resident and former head of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was hailed by mourners as a visionary who for decades tried to explain Islam to the American public, forge ties with other religious groups and seek peace and democracy in the Middle East.

He died Thursday at 77 after suffering a stroke.

"Nobody of this magnitude" has died in Long Island's Muslim community, estimated at 70,000, said Habeeb Ahmed, first vice president of the mosque, Nassau County's largest.

Khankan, some of whose comments questioning Muslim involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks provoked controversy, was mostly recalled as a man of peace and founding member of the Long Island Multi-Faith Forum.

Msgr. Donald Beckmann, director of Interfaith Relations for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said he worked with Khankan for 20 years on interfaith understanding.

"I've always respected him as a man of integrity with a real concern for reaching out" to people of other faiths, Beckman said.

Forum co-founder Arvind Vora recalled Khankan as a humorous and peaceful man.

"He has touched everyone's heart," Vora said.

Nihad Awad, national executive director of CAIR's headquarters in Washington, D.C., said that "when the history of Islam in America and New York is written, Ghazi will be remembered as a champion and pioneer of civic engagement and interfaith work."

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