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My Take: Muslims must engage politically, look outside themselves
Muslim Americans must exercise their right to vote and be part of the process, says Khalid Latif.
October 25th, 2012
01:00 PM ET

My Take: Muslims must engage politically, look outside themselves

Editor's Note: Imam Khalid Latif is a chaplain for New York University and executive director of the school's Islamic Center.

By Khalid Latif, Special to CNN

My wife and I were on our way into Bed, Bath and Beyond in late August when I decided to check my office voicemail from my cell phone. I told her I'd meet her inside. When I did, she asked whether I had any messages.

"Just one,” I told her. “I was asked to deliver an invocation at this year's Republican National Convention." She responded with a smile on her face, "Of course you were," and then showed me the pillows she’d selected.

I didn't get a chance to decide whether I would accept the invitation, as Hurricane Isaac changed the RNC schedule and made the decision for me. But before the impending storm blew me off the schedule, I sought advice from friends and colleagues. What were the implications of my participating at the RNC? Would it make sense?

One conservative, evangelical Republican friend told me that it would have been a great way to start a conversation with members of his party who are fed up with the current platform and, amongst other things, the party’s highly anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric. Now, it seemed, that conversation wouldn't happen.

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But I couldn't understand why it must take a Muslim standing on an RNC stage to get people talking. Is that really the only way a Muslim voice can be heard in the political arena? Realistically, it's not. The other options just require more time, strategy and patience.

Like all other citizens, American Muslims can be heard through our right to vote. We, as a community, can amplify our voice by building coalitions more broadly with other groups. And we can speak the loudest by encouraging our best and brightest to be a part of the system.

Most American Muslims aren't hearing a discourse that tells them to be civically engaged on a local or grassroots level, which is a huge problem. The presidential election is not the only election that takes place in our country; the impact that one can have on local communities is just as important.

We are starting to get this. In comparison to 10 years ago, today we see more Muslim mayors, city council members and commissioners, law enforcement agents, policymakers and others. But there is still a long way to go. Refraining from being part of the process really isn't an option anymore.

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In deciding who to work with or which candidate to support on any level, be it local or national, it's important to be informed beyond one's own needs. Most Muslims keep from building relationships with other groups unless there is some direct impact on us.

We don't stand up for others’ rights as well as we should. Then, when we want others to be there for us and validate our community, we don't get what we need so readily because we weren’t there for their communities or still don’t understand issues beyond our own.

Do you know what conversations are taking place in your local government? Decisions are being made that will affect people who live in your town, your city, your state, your entire country.

If the Muslim community wants people to stand with us when a hateful person protests the building of our mosques, we need to stand with them at their time of need, or even at times when there is no pressing need at all. The myopic perspective that keeps us from thinking strategically and, more importantly, humanely, needs to go.

I watched the presidential debates at the Islamic Center at New York University, where I was joined by my students and community members. I watched so that I could be better informed of the candidates' stances on all issues - including the ones that affect me directly and those that touch people around me.

I will keep telling my students, whom I encouraged to register to vote, that they must think beyond the presidential election and get involved locally. New York City will elect a new mayor next year, along with many other officials, and they should be a part of that process, too.

And I will keep telling them that civic engagement is not just about having your voice heard. It's also about having confidence that you have something to offer that will make society better.

My students, like many other American Muslims, can and should help the growth and development of our country. The time is here for them to see not only how their being Muslim benefits them individually but also how their being Muslim benefits the world around them.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Khalid Latif.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 2012 Election • Faith Now • Islam • Muslim • My Take • Politics

soundoff (1,030 Responses)
  1. Apple Bush

    Muslims must clean their Grandma'a closet. Quick before Grandpa throws acid on her face!

    January 28, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  2. russ marez

    i take offense of the authors accertion of ,your fellow muslims attacked america!We are in a defacto state of war,your people call for the extermination of all non believers in islam,cower behind human shields,mostly children,and do not have the courage to step on the field of battle in uniform .your faith is a lie and a plague on this earth,you have zero respect for human life ,so dont come to my country seeking quarter,none will be given!

    January 27, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  3. AlienShark

    Powerful lobbies such as the Pro Israel lobby, American Atheists and many others pay top dollar to have shills come to these forums, spread their agenda and copy whatever info they can get about the people who disagree with their point of view. If you knew how many of the "debaters" in this forum were paid shills
    sitting in boiler room type operations all day basically getting into character and arguing the agenda their boss gave them you would spend less time debating them and more time talking about their little known but thriving industry. anyone who is in the lobby industry or marketing research knows about this business but the majority of the average forum readers have no clue that the person they are talking with is in character and secretly copying their info and telling some lobby if they agree or disagree with their agenda. Mad grimy. I don't care what your politics are one way or the other...I just want you to be able to spot these shills when you come across them.

    http://consciouslifenews .com/paid-internet-shill-shadowy-groups-manipulate-internet-opinion-debate/1147073/

    January 22, 2013 at 11:05 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Cool! Any idea how to apply?

      January 22, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  4. Jack 3

    I 'd personally would like to see muslims pack their relatives and get out of the country.

    January 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  5. John Geheran

    Islam is a totalitarian belief system. As such, it's not compatible with Western democracy. Even a casual reading of Islamic sacred texts, ahadith and the four recognized schools of Islamic jurisprudence will reveal this indisputable fact. So to all my Islamic brothers and sisters, either assimilate or find a home in an Islamic country.

    January 15, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.