Former Muslim leader who helped open Hoover mosque dies on 

"Imam Raed Awad passed away  in Kuala Lumpur after a long battle with health issues and recently with cancer,"

Awad, 56, moved to Birmingham in 2004 and left Alabama in 2011 to move to Malaysia.

When the Alabama Faith Council started, he was the first to represent Muslims. He helped promote understanding between our Christian and Jewish partners.  That was his passion, to lead the Muslim community."

Awad was a sometimes controversial figure serving as a spokesman for the Muslim community and a leader for the Birmingham Islamic Society.
''I love this community,'' Awad said before he left. ''I love Birmingham in general and I love the Muslim community here.''

Awad was imam at the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center when it opened in 2008.

"He gave a friendly face and a friendly voice to Islam," said the Rev. Steve Jones, former pastor of Southside Baptist Church, who was friends with him. "It wasn't always met with friendliness. He believed intently in what he believed. He said he wanted to work with people and teach them about Islam, and he did."

Awad said in 2011 that his wife, Nur, whom he married in 2009, was pregnant and he wanted to return home to Malaysia. ''My wife misses her family,'' he said.

Awad had four children with his first wife, Isabella, and then helped raise two stepchildren he had with his second wife, Katy Carr, who he met in Alabama.

"My son didn't know another father," said Carr, who kept in contact with Awad after their divorce.

She said Awad ran a restaurant and catering business in Malaysia with his wife and her family.

"He seemed really happy there," Carr said. "He loved to cook. He was Chef Raed. She did beautiful pastries and cakes. He was doing lamb. He was teaching cooking classes."

Awad served from 1994 to 2000 as imam of the Masjid Al Iman mosque in Fort Lauderdale that was attended by Muslim convert Jose Padilla, who lived in Broward County from 1991 to 1998 and was arrested in 2002 at a Chicago airport on suspicion of plotting a ''dirty bomb'' attack for al-Qaida. Padilla was indicted for aiding terrorists and convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to murder.

Awad said he knew Padilla slightly but had no influence over him. Awad testified at Padilla's trial.

Awad, a Palestinian, also came under scrutiny as a fundraiser for The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which the U.S. government shut down in 2001 for its connections to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Awad said at the time he raised funds to help Palestinian hospitals, orphanages and schools. He said he had no decision-making authority with Holy Land Foundation and never saw evidence of funds being directed to violent activities.

Awad largely overcame initial suspicion and was accepted in Birmingham as a spokesman for Muslims at numerous interfaith events, said Jones. ''Our folks loved him,'' Jones said. ''He was very engaging."

At the time he left Alabama, Awad said he hoped to work on interfaith dialogue in Malaysia, which is 60 percent Muslim, with the Buddhist, Hindu and Christian minorities there.