By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Mohammed Turfe, 88, known for his generosity, as the founder of the Islamic Center of America and Bint Jebail Cultural Center in Dearborn died Wednesday, March 27.
Turfe battled pancreatic cancer for two years and leaves behind seven children including 20th District Court Judge David Turfe.
“My dad was the ultimate public servant for God, his family and his community,” Judge Turfe said. “He wasn’t doing it for the fame or fortune, just the community.”
Visitation was held on March 29 at the ICA, burial on March 28 at United Memorial Gardens in Plymouth and commemoration services on March 31 at the ICA.
Mohammed Turfe was born on Jan. 6, 1931, in Detroit and spent his life as an advocate, community leader and a U.S. Army veteran, serving from 1952 to 1954. He became a supply sergeant during the Korean War.
In 1950, Mohammed Turfe along with Imam Mohamad Chirri and other community members opened the ICA on Joy Road before building the current 120,000-square-foot facility at 19500 Ford Road in 2005. Today, the ICA is known as one of the biggest mosque’s in the United States.
Mohammed Turfe founded the Bint Jebail Cultural Center, 6220 Miller Road, in 1994, and is named after a city in Lebanon. Over the years, the building became a place for Middle Eastern immigrants or Arab Americans to gather and hold celebrations including children’s events, religious and cultural programs. Also operating as a banquet hall which accommodates up to 800 people, the center hosts weddings, fundraisers and graduation parties.
According to the Bint Jebail Cultural Center website, small scholarships are provided yearly, financial assistance to the poor and less fortunate patients in dire need are offered, help to immigrants coming to area to find employment, document translation and a place to live for free.
Mohammed Turfe was invited to the White House to discuss Middle East problems from 1997 to 2005. One of those trips was to share his views on the Arab-Israeli issues.
He served as a member of the Dearborn Beautiful Commission and Mayor John O’Reilly Sr’s. task force simultaneously.
From 1970 to 1982 he was a member of the Urban Renewal Committee and O’Reilly’s mayor council, according to the center’s website. Over the years, Turfe was awarded The Great Seal of Michigan for outstanding contributions in community, arts, history, education and charity, and recognized by ACCESS for outstanding community leadership in the metropolitan Detroit area.
“Our community has lost a giant overnight with the passing of Haj Mohammed Yousef Turfe, one of the founding members of the Islamic Center of America and the Bint Jebail Cultural Center,” Police Chief Ronald Haddad wrote on Facebook. “Mr. Turfe has served this community with a great focus on youth development. Mayor John B. O’Reilly Jr. has directed that we assist the family as needed during this very difficult time. On behalf of Mayor O’Reilly and all of us, we extend our condolences to the Honorable Judge David Turfe and the entire family.”
Before his death, Mohammed Turfe was planning to build a community center with a funeral home to service the Arab American community. The project currently under construction on Prospect in Dearborn is scheduled to open early next year.
“The most influential people, the ones who leave behind incredible legacies, will live on in the hearts of the people they touch,” Project Dignity Outreach Founder and Executive Director Nahid Ayoub wrote on Facebook. “Physically, they will no longer be a part of society, but their principles, philosophies and achievements will become immortal, spreading from generation to generation. When I think about leadership, everyone that comes to mind has passed away. I think of the men and women that raised me and my generation, I think of Haj Mohammed Turfe.”
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected].)