Casey Kasem, America's king of popular music countdowns, passed away early Sunday after months of family controversy surrounding his end-of-life care. Although famous for his radio shows, Kasem will also be remembered for representing the little-known Druze religion.
Kasem, born Kemal Amen Kasem, was the son of Lebanese Druze immigrants, The Washington Post reported. He worked to support the Arab American community throughout his career and was named Man of the Year by the American Druze Society in 1996.
The Druze grew out of Shi'a Islam, although the community's place among contemporary Muslims is contested. "The Druze faith is a complex combination of Islam and gnosticism, with a history of assimilating into their new homelands," Religion News Service reported.
Omid Safi, in a column about Druze lawyer Amal Alamduddin, offered an in-depth look at the tiny faith, which has 1 to 2 million members worldwide. Alamduddin, who is George Clooney's fiancĂ©, succeeded Kasem as the most famous American Druze.
Safi explained that the Druze faith is centered on the division of the world into a group of people who are initiated into the mysteries of the universe and "the uninitiated masses." The Druze were initially concentrated in Syria, Lebanon and Israel, but were scattered by regional conflicts.
Growing up in America, Kasem first tried his hand at radio broadcasting in high school, but blossomed as a disc jockey when he served in Korea with the Army. "He was a DJ on the Armed Forces Radio Network," CNN reported.
"His voice was always his ticket to fame," the article continued, noting his portrayal of Shaggy on the cartoon "Scooby-Doo." Kasem's relationship to his Druze heritage was most present, however, in his political activism.
"Kasem dedicated himself to improving Arab-Jewish relations," Al Jazeera America reported. He refused a role in the third season of "Transformers" because of the show's focus on evil Arabs.
The Druze community was in the news recently because of how difficult it is to find a mate in the tiny religion. The Atlantic reported that "the chance to share and preserve a rich spiritual history with a spouse" leads many American Druze on a "quirky path to love." Fatin Harfouch and Samer Abou-Zaki, the couple profiled in the article, had a courtship worthy of one of Kasem's famous long-distance dedications.
As Americans continue to mourn Kasem this week, Al Jazeera America reminds them to remember his signature sign-off: "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."
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