"I love America," Rashid said, with passion. "Americans are so beautiful."
Resplendent in a cream-colored gown and a white gauze turban around his boyish face, the 40-year-old Rashid looks more like a Catholic nun than a Muslim cleric. The similarity is deliberate — he readily admits that he models himself after Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Although Islamic doctrine considers Mary the virgin mother of a prophet – – a status almost as revered in Islam as it is in Christianity — it is unheard of for a Muslim cleric to adopt Christian-style garb, much less a woman’s.
Rashid says Mary appeared to him in three visions telling him to follow her. He adopted the style when he was a seminary student in Baghdad in the early 1990s, but it has become more pronounced since his mosque came under U.S. protection after the April 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Rashid’s close-cropped beard is dyed blond, in keeping with his all-white image — a sign of purity, he says — and he wears patterned contact lenses.