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Imam Khalid Latif

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Ramadan Reflection Day 6: Standing with Trayvon and Oday -- Race Relations in America

Posted: 07/14/2013 3:31 pm

Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, 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, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.

Some of my students and I were getting food at a street cart near our Islamic Center at NYU when a middle-aged woman started to push her way through our group. She seemingly didn't think she had to wait in line.

As she shouldered her way through our group, she said "Excuse me, excuse me. Please move out of the way. Don't you speak English?"

When she got to the front of the line and saw me, bearded and with my head covered as I normally am, she answered her own question. "Oh, I guess you don't speak English. Tell me, how does one say 'excuse me' where you are from."

I responded, "We say 'Excuse me.'"

She said, "No, the place where you family lives. How do they say it there?"

I responded again, "We are from New Jersey. And we say excuse me."

"All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white- except by consciousness and good action."
~ The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.

Last night, a not-guilty verdict was reached in the case involving George Zimmerman and his killing of Trayvon Martin. As many were upset by this verdict, and in my opinion justifiably so, some commentators felt that those who were upset were too focused on race and not the facts pursuant of justice. I think it's difficult to separate the two.

It's a foolish notion to think that the society we live in doesn't treat individuals differently based off of the way that they look, the color of their skin, their race, ethnicity, or culture of origin. Beyond simple acts of ignorance that take place such as with the woman who thought I couldn't speak English, policies established by governmental, corporate, and at times non-profit entities definitely lend towards the existence of institutionalized racism. Systems are built that produce inequitable realities. The most alarming part is society on a whole starts to become indifferent towards the existence of that inequity. We see injustice and abuse of basic rights taking place in front of our eyes, but somehow are not compelled to do anything about it. In our individual capacity, as well as the institutional capacity that some of us might bring to the table, we can start to remedy some of this.

Oday Aboushi, drafted this year as a lineman for the New York Jets, was unnecessarily targeted and profiled by recently because of his Palestinian-American heritage. Interestingly enough he, like most minorities in America, has to have his American-ness qualified by a hyphen of some kind.

In response to these comments, the Jets issued a statement in support of diversity in their corporation, but more importantly, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League challenged the accusations, stating that they were unfounded and baseless. His being Palestinian should not automatically give room to assume that he is something that he is not. Still, there were those who could not see beyond their pre-conceived ideas and notions and they made their assessment through the intolerant and intellectually-lazy lens of racism.

For those who would dismiss my claims, saying I as a Muslim can't be victim to racism because Islam is not a race, you should know that Islam has been racialized for quite some time. Muslims are placed all together into one giant, homogenous monolith. We are placed in the minds of many as being from someplace else, miles away and made for the past, and unfortunate policies exist that render the treatment of Muslims as being different from the treatment of others.

I, like all Americans, have a U.S. passport which grants me a social contract to be treated similarly as my fellow citizens. The unfortunate reality is that is not the case. For quite some time, flying internationally and returning back to my country became quite an issue. I would be detained for 4 to 6 hours at a time, taking into a detention room filled with minorities. Even at times when I would travel on behalf of the US State Department, I would get stopped. It got to a point where I wouldn't even reach the customs line, but instead two TSA workers would be waiting for me at the door of the plane as an announcement would go up saying having passports ready for random checking. Essentially, I was the random check. When my passport was found, I would be escorted away, everyone else would be told they could put their passports away -- "random checking" was over.

As I went through questioning and my belongings were searched, my State Department documents embossed with our nation's seal, or my NYPD credentials and badge would be found. I was once asked, "Why are we stopping you?" After a few weekends of being stopped in a row, I asked a TSA worker who had now seen me repeatedly why he thought I was being stopped. His response: "You are young, male and Muslim and those three things don't go so well together these days." Not so different from the way many young black men would be treated. My beard and skull-cap, your hooded sweatshirt, these are the criteria used to justify the way we are treated. How then can it not be about race?

What makes us ignore these realities is usually the unconscious benefit that we derive from the mistreatment of others. If a store clerk is following around a young black or latino kid in a store, then they aren't following you around. If a law enforcement agent is told to look out for the "urban, street thug" or the "Arabic-Sounding Name or Dress", then they aren't looking for and harassing you. It's a privileged class that is able to walk down the street without having a second glance made in their direction and isn't by default assumed guilty until proven innocent. And it is a select majority that is soon to be a minority that is able to simply call themselves American.

What is the solution? People of good conscience need to stand and speak in defense of those who are not able to stand and speak for themselves. Denying racism exists comes from a place of privilege. There are different Americas, black, white and otherwise and we should not become individuals who are oblivious to the experiences of others simply because they are not our own. We have abolished slavery in our nation but still remain slaves to ourselves. This modern-day bondage causes us to become submissive to our own minds and captivates our hearts from reaching their full potential of understanding, empathy and compassion simply because we cannot look beyond our own experiences and acknowledge the experiences of others.

Take the time to interact, build relationships, and learn from those who are different from you. When you see any type of injustice, take steps to remedy it. And at the very least, take a moment every day to reflect on your own biases and stereotypes. We all have them and need to start breaking them down so that we can in turn break down the barriers that separate us as nation on a whole.

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  • Ramadan Reflection Day 1: The Different Forms of Fasting

    While I break my fast with with friends and family, the men and women of Guantanamo will have their fast purposely broken far away from any family -- some being detained now for almost a decade.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 2: Richness Through Reflection

    The month of Ramadan consists of 30 days of fasting. Each of those days serves uniquely as a potential source of benefit, and none should be undermined in its respective value.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 3: On Parents and Marriage Choices

    Built into our tradition is a prayer the purpose of which is to help us make decisions through turning to God. The number of people who I have seen who try it and don't really know how it works is quite large.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 4: What I Learn From a Non-Muslim Fasting

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 5: On Malala's Message

    What's important to realize about Malala is that she isn't standing up just for her own rights, but for the right of others. And even after she was given accommodations for herself, she continues to speak for those who aren't able to have their voices heard.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 6: Standing with Trayvon and Oday - Race Relations in America

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 7: Building Tender Hearts

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 8: Worst Ramadan Ever

    Ask yourself honestly, when was the last time you reached out to a person that you hadn't seen in a few days or weeks or even last Ramadan but not this one? When we fail to check in on or include each other, we are potentially hurting one another more than we realize.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 9: Understanding Our Responses to Challenges

    There is a sense of achievement that should stem from completing a day's fast during the intense heat and long hours of the Summer, but the process and challenge of the fast can yield much more than that.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 10: Thoughtful Fasting

    Everyone knows that giving is good and the helping people out is good, but we rarely emphasize what the etiquette around that might be and how to do it well. Many of us give, but not many of us give to the best of our ability.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 11: Boys Will Be Boys, But Not Always Men

    It's unfair to young boys and men that we don't expect more from them. They end up being quite immature, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, and lagging behind in their personal emergence of adulthood, especially when compared to their female counterparts.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 12: The Benefits of Familiarity

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 13: Syria On My Mind -- Curing the Illness of Indifference

    Abdel Rahim just wants a blanket for his daughter-in-law - let's give him and the rest of people of Syria that and much more.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 14: I Get Sad Sometimes

    Being sad is one of the hardest things to deal with. Since Ramadan I've felt sad at various times. I don't think being sad is necessarily an indication of one's faith, especially not a weakness of it.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 15: A Conduct That Is Quranic in Nature -- The Qur'an on Good Character

    Not all of us are meant to be the one that leads the prayer or gives the sermon, but are goodness is not associated necessarily with positions or titles like that. Our sense of character is what will open doors for us in our growth.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 16: Every Teacher Was Once a Student

    An expert in any arena started out as a novice, and you and I in our paths towards reaching our full potential are no different. Our respective journeys towards a mastery of our skills and acquisition of our credentials, degrees, licenses, and titles starts always with a step one.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 17: Giving Better vs. Giving More -- Being Smarter With Our Charity

    Many of us tend to give more during Ramadan. Be smart about your giving. Look to support those who have sensible ideas, are visionary in their scope, and have the skills to get done what they are telling you they want to do.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 18: Adoption, Foster Care and the World's Forgotten Children

    Throughout the Qur'an we find verse after verse that tells us to be kind to orphans and to treat with affection, care and dignity. We should all take a moment to reflect on what is keeping us from being of better assistance to those children who have no parents or families.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 19: Building Spaces for the Silent Majority

    I am an advocate for creating new spaces in the Muslim community. Spaces that cater to the silent majority and are built off of a model with multiple entry points. Spaces that are not reactive to the existing apparatus, but are well-thought out and proactively built.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 20: Softening the Heart Through Spiritual Retreat -- The Last 10 Days of Ramadan

    At times we don't realize how hard our hearts have become. The pursuit of complacency becomes our goal rather than the pursuit of contentment and we sacrifice things that would bring us everlasting comfort in pursuit of those things that simply give us the facade of comfort.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 21: Maureen Dowd, Huma Abedin and the Media's Simplistic Stance on Islam

    Huma Abedin is more than just her Islam. The extremely reductionist approach that many journalists and media outlets have comfortably taken when dealing with Islam and Muslims is getting pretty ridiculous at this point.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 22: What Does Marriage Mean to You?

    Instead of waiting until you get married to figure out what marriage means to you, start the conversation now. From other relationships in your life, understand yourself and what makes sense for you.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 23: Fatherhood From the Beginning -- Things I Learned During Pregnancy

    If you are blessed to be a father, don't let any of it pass you by. Start as soon as you find out you are expecting.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 24: Need, Greed and Our Responsibility To the World

    In these last few days of Ramadan, reflect deeply on what you really need and how you can play a role in encouraging a better mindfulness of our treatment of rest of creation.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 25: A Letter to My Community

    We have something unique alhamdulillah and it's important for us to grow it. The credentials, resources, and personalities that we find within our community uniquely position us to do a lot. We are poised to build many of the institutions and organizations that our community is in need of.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 26: Simple Actions Can Change the World

    What's more remarkable to me is that most of those who gave will probably never meet those who they gave to. The motivation wasn't because of kinship rooted in socially constructed value, shared culture or common heritage.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 27: A Prayer for the Night

    In these last nights of Ramadan, gatherings unlike any other time of the year are taking place. Men and women from all walks of life remove from themselves the shackles of the material and for a moment seek to feed only their spirits.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 28: Finding Success Through Failure

    In a few days Ramadan will be over. It'll be tougher to fast, but you should still fast. It will be harder to eat and pray together with friends, but you still should. It will be more difficult to give to those in need, but your giving should never stop.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 29: Four Women I Met and The Prayer They Asked Us To Make

    Four different women I met during Ramadan asked me to pray for them and to ask others as well. In these last hours of Ramadan, I would ask that you all join me and keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well.

  • Ramadan Reflection Day 30: A Final Ramadan Reflection

    For those celebrating the Eid ul-Fitr holiday, Eid Mubarak. May your day be blessed and full of joy. For those not celebrating, may your day be blessed moreso. It doesn't have to be a holiday to feel uplifted. We don't need always need reasons to be happy, as we usually do to be sad.


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