Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above.
A month from now will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I've been asked countless times what I plan on doing this year in commemoration. I plan on doing what I do every year -- standing at Ground Zero out of respect for those that we lost that day, with those who lost on that day, even if there are people who think I shouldn't be there.
Eleven months ago, on the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I attended the memorial service at ground zero. As a chaplain for the NYPD, I went to an early breakfast the day of with family members of police officers that we lost in that tragic attack. We then took a bus together to the ground zero site where we joined a growing crowd of politicians, civil servants, 9/11 families, and others.
I love being a chaplain for the NYPD. The guys that I have met on the force are really amazing people and every opportunity I get to wear my uniform it's with a certain pride. The chaplain position is by appointment and we go in with the rank of inspector. The uniform denotes the rank. I wore it to the memorial service that day as many others wore theirs as well, but my beard complemented by a kufi that I regularly wear on my head made it clear that even while in uniform, I am a Muslim.
As I mingled with people in the crowd, I settled on a place in front of the stage and stood waiting for the memorial to start. At that point, three men in suits approached me and said that Secret Service had spotted me from the top of a building. They had requested to see my credentials "just in case." I asked, "Just in case what?" One of the suited men said he was sorry that they were doing this to me and I asked him why he was doing it then. Feelings of anxiety began to surface, not because I was being profiled, but because my sense of remorse was being questioned. My standing there was not an apology on behalf of Islam but as a moment to remember, reflect, and respect those we lost. These men made me question if it was appropriate for me to feel grief because I am a Muslim. Pain is subjective to the one feeling it and the last decade of my life had definitely been affected by the 9/11 attacks. As a sophomore at NYU I stood on September 11th, 2001 in Washington Square Park along with many of my peers as we watched the second plane fly into the tower and, subsequently, the buildings fall. I prayed funeral prayers for loved ones and community members that were lost on that day and have stood time and time again with men and women who have experienced tremendous loss as a result of this attack. Were they saying none of that meant anything just because I'm Muslim?
The feeling of alienation that these men could have potentially instilled within me wouldn't stem just from being singled out or profiled. What was more alienating was being told that I am not allowed to share in the grief or that my remembering is somehow not valid because I practice Islam.
At this point a woman who was standing next to me spoke out on my behalf saying that what they were doing was more dishonoring to the memory of the loved one that she lost on that day than really anything else. That here I was, standing with them at a moment of need, and these men made it seem like I was doing something wrong just because I am Muslim. Frustration didn't ensue because of how I was being treated, but because I couldn't really do anything about it. I appreciate that woman every day because she said what I was not able to say for no reason other than it was the right thing to do. She gave me my validation.
In our tradition, we find a narration that speaks of a funeral procession that once passed in front of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The Prophet stood out of respect as the procession passed and was then told that it was a Jewish person who had passed away, not a Muslim. His response? "Was he not a living being, a living soul?"
So this year, like last year, and the year before that, I will again stand out of respect for those who we lost on that day, with those who lost on that day, even if it hurts me a little to be singled out. In the end, it's not about me. It might help the situation if more Muslims came out on that day as well. Not to speak, or to educate or anything of that like. But just to stand out of respect. Like the Prophet did.