Moujahed M. Bakhach

The imam who became a reluctant ambassador

By Abdool Razack

May/June 2023

In 2008, Imam Moujahed M. Bakhach was at home in Ft. Worth, Texas, when the phone rang. A voice stated that the U.S. Department of State was calling. The surprised imam asked, “Is this a joke… a crank call?” “No sir,” replied the caller, “this is the Department of State.” 

They wanted to send him to Norway, Belgium and Ireland to talk about Islam in the U.S. Flabbergasted, he wondered how they knew about him. The answer turned out to be his reputation. An al-Azhar University graduate who did postgraduate studies at Ain-Shams University in Cairo, the Lebanese-born imam is fluent in Arabic and French. Arriving in Texas during 1982, he quickly became fluent in English as imam of Fort Worth’s Islamic Association of Tarrant County (1982-2005).

Over the years, he became involved in civic and interfaith relations, working tirelessly with various Christian denominations, as well as Hindu and Jewish groups, and serving on the mayor’s Faith Based Committee. In addition to serving as director of the Mediation Institute of North Texas, this certified conflict mediator, marriage counselor, and advisory member of the County Sheriff Chaplain office who works closely with the city police is currently a member of the Clergy and Peace Alliance.

Given his involvement in many other projects and the accolades, he has received from the city, county and state, there was no question that he would have come to the State Department’s attention as the ideal candidate for this undertaking. 

I’ve greatly admired him as a person, ever since he first came to our community and gradually became a guiding force in our and other communities’ projects. He was the first imam to give the benediction at the legislature’s opening at the state capitol in Austin.

In 2008 the State Department, on behalf of the U.S. International Speaker’s Bureau, sent Imam Bakhach to Ireland, Belgium and Norway to give lectures on the radio and at public halls and meet with city and state officials. 

In Ireland, he met with the mayor and the police department and spoke at a university. In Belgium, he interacted with various Christian denominations and spoke at a synagogue. Oslo mayor Per Ditlev-Simonsen was especially interested in the interfaith activities being held in the U.S. He hoped to get the Norwegian police involved in a similar fashion, for both wanted to make Muslims feel more welcome. 

During this tour, the imam noticed that the U.S. was more advanced in ecumenical outreach. 

Imam Bakhach received such favorable responses from his visits that the next year he was sent to Francophone Niger, Benin, Senegal and Burkina Faso. Being fluent in French enabled him to communicate easily with his intended audiences. He gradually acquired the feeling that the African nations had a less favorable opinion of the U.S. than did the European nations. 

In Benin, the then-U.S. ambassador assigned a public affairs officer to accompany the imam for his entire West African tour. In Burkina Faso, he spoke with local dignitaries and was presented with an elaborate ceremonial textile ornament.

Imam Bakhach with Ceremonial Neckwear

While visiting and lecturing in Niger, the imam recalls feeling like a “king” in each city. In Niamey, the capital city, local television personality Imam Musa Abu Bakr Hashem gave him an extraordinary gift: a century-old handwritten Quran encased in an aged leather case. Considering its age, the loose-leafed Quran was in excellent condition. It was a sheer delight to see it and handle it with gloves, of course. In Niamey, he also visited the Jordanian and Egyptian embassies and met with the ambassadors and staff.

Imam Bakhach felt that he had accomplished his mission in Europe and especially in West Africa. 


In Europe, he stressed ecumenism and that Islam is coexisting peacefully with Christianity and Judaism in the U.S. There are bound to be problems when different people are living in the same space, he told them, but they’re not insurmountable. Moreover, we can all coexist amicably and peacefully if we’re willing to try. The U.S., he reminded his audiences, is an experiment that is working despite all the barriers. 

The imam felt that he had dispelled most of the West Africans’ misconceptions about the U.S. He engaged with the U.S. embassy staff in each country and did his best to interact with the locals. 

Handwritten Quran from Niger

Listening to him talk about this mission and seeing all his awards, local and foreign, I was left with the distinct impression that he was fully committed to promoting Islam and the U.S. in a positive manner and committed to ecumenism. In Africa especially, he promoted the U.S., with all its imperfections, as a nation always striving to improve itself in all spheres.

Given his background, education, personality and commitment, Imam Bakhach was the right man for this formidable task. Both of his tours were overwhelming successes. 

Abdool Razack, M.D. is a retired physician based in Fort Worth, Texas.

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