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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. Aisha Amal

    I have actually seen a lot of very good bringing together of community in Atlanta. Two years ago I signed up a team from our youth at our Masjid for the local hunger walk for the food bank. We went there wondering if we would be the only Muslim group. I was shocked to see that there were 4 Masjid and a Turkish community center represented. I can easily say despite Muslims being less than 1% of the population in Atlanta That day there were a whole lot more than that in Hijab and It would be impossible to account for the men. Muslims were well over represented. I am not saying our community does not have a long way to go but we are trying. We get involved with any group that has common goals and appreciates our contribution.

    Our family votes and we encourage everyone to do so. But I have to admit with all the evil hatred out there coming from people who blame us for things we had nothing to do with, and have repeatedly denounced, it is not easy to get out and approach groups. The food bank is easy because the founder is very open and welcoming. He openly encourages any religious group to take part and holds interfaith days when we all process food with a group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians and anyone else who is interested. I think Muslims are more than wanting to jump in and help.

    But lets face it it is not easy. When you volunteer to help out at a school field trip only to have a father hisssss Murderer at you in front of your child and other children. When an adult approach's a 6 year old child in a public restroom and tell them to "go home" when this IS HOME and you have ancestors who fought in the American revolution and civil war (Yankees MashAllah). It gets really hard to keep putting yourself out there. So I do want to say to any charity out there who needs help, call your local Masjid (Mosque) You will be surprised how willing they are to help, if you are welcoming. We are looking for opportunities to help, but sometimes we may need some help to find them.

    October 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
    • True

      You are right, but what makes the people anger is that you always go and say we are the Muslims here, you always trying to show up the Islam and religion, we don't want this, we want you whatever you are, you are almost welcome, but please don't thinking at every time to talk about Islam and get new people in Islam!

      October 25, 2012 at 8:08 pm |
  2. Jonz

    When are libs going to realize that you can kiss up to Muslims as much as you like, but your Alinsky tactics won't work on them. They hate any government that is not Islamic, and they are certainly not going to pin their hopes on a democratically elected president. I know you're desperate, but you sold the farm for secular humanists, now you're going to have to rely on them to get you back into the white house.

    October 25, 2012 at 8:00 pm |

    • White men over 40 aren't going to get your Mormon flake Romney into the White House.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  3. Beverly

    Well I posted, but it didn't get there, and I'm too tired to retype it.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  4. Nate

    I agree with the author that Muslims would be better off if they connected more with the non-Muslims around them. I just don't think Islam is well suited for it. Its got lots of proscriptions (e.g. limits on booze, pork, gender mixing) and prescriptions that conflict with American culture. This makes most Muslims uncomfortable with most non-Muslims, and vice-versa. Furthermore there's an assumption in Islam that its many rules should be normative, making Muslims frustrated with the dominant culture. I'd love to see more Muslims hanging out with non-Muslims, but that's in part because I think that would dilute their Muslimness. Islam's rigidity creates barriers between people that are harder to break down than barriers between people of different cultures from more relaxed religious backgrounds.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  5. Citizen

    It is time for NON-MUSLIMS to step up and demand muslim immigration be halted.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm |

    • Why don't we trade a dumbass Citizen for an intelligent, well-educated, productive Muslim.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  6. Dudley Freeman

    How about American Muslims stepping up to condemn the hideous violence and killing in the name of Islam.? How about stepping up and saying "We as Americans stand with our country and condemn the radicals who are trying to destroy America" .? How about stepping up and condemning the actions of the Islamists in Nigeria who are killing Christians and the actions of Islamists calling for terrorists attacks on America? How about doing that instead of complaining about Islamophobia? There is a reason people fear Muslims, look at what is going on in the world. How about stepping up and loudly proclaiming you condemn these actions??

    October 25, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • DK

      There aren't enough "likes" for your opinion.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Samina

      You must be deaf and blind if by now you can't hear and see the loud and clear denunciations from moderate muslims and clerics. Your propaganda won't work.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • Christian one

      Both of you are right, you and the editor, he is right about anyone should have the same right, and You are right about that he shouldn't speak here about the peace, we don't need to know we need to see, truelly the need for islamic center the islamic countries not us, and the messages of peace should come in behaviours not in words.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  7. qularknoo

    the article shows its author's agenda ... by assuming that hate is behind any and all opposition. Opposing the morals and teachings (and therefor the spread) of Islam isn't automatically based in hatred ... many people know that philosphies can be compared and differences discerned rationally and analytically.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  8. us_1776

    Islam is one thousand years overdue for a reformation.

    All other religions of Abraham have gone through reformations.

    It is now time for the islamic community to bring its religion within the context of the modern world.

    Muslims cannot engage in modern society because their religion is holding them back.

    Reformation is the key.

    .

    October 25, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @us_1776,

      the Daily Show posited this a few weeks ago.

      Christianity is around 1976 years old.
      Islam is around 1390 years old.

      When Christianity wsa 1390 years old, Ca 1426:

      The Crusades were over
      Two years later in 1428, the body of John Wycliffe* would be exhumed and burned as a heretic
      The Spanish Inquisition would not start for 54 years
      The Martin Luther's 95 theses were still 91 years in the future

      It will be interesting to see how Islam develops. Arguably it is in a similar state of development that Christianity was at the same age.

      * An early English translator of the bible

      October 25, 2012 at 7:52 pm |
  9. Samina

    Numbers Don't Lie!!!..The sheer number of followers of the religion of Islam and the grand annual Hajj pilgrimage going on right now, the largest gathering of humanity on earth should be enough to arouse anyone's curiosity regarding the truth about Islam. Don't give into fear mongering and propaganda. Find out the truth. There can't be billion plus people and growing in massive numbers who are buying into something thats not credible .

    October 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • qularknoo

      Satan is the father of murderers and liers ... and many people have no problem rejecting God and following Satan's lead.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • It's like this

      Isn;t it a sin for a Muslim to say Christianity is credible like that? I mean, if you say that 1 billion Muslims must be right, then you also must say that 2.5 billion Christians must be righter.

      Don't they stone you or decapitate you for saying that in Islam?

      Here is a clue for the clueless: True and false are not made true or false by the count of people who agree or disagree. If something is true but all seven billion people on earth don't believe it, it is still true. And if all seven billion people do believe something that is actually not true, it is not true.

      We here this fallacious logic all the time from religious people. Basically, because they have no facts or evidence, they must almost always resort to fallacies. And if all you have is fallacies, then what you are saying really cannot be true.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Samina

      Forgot to add- the hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam. The rest of them being having faith in One God and Mohammed ashis messenger, Praying 5 times a day, fasting the entire month of ramadan from sunrise to sunset, Giving charity 2.5% of one's savings and then hajj. Satan can never call anyone to do so much good..so your argument is not valid.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Samina

      Christianity has been here longer and the rate of conversions to Islam is the highest among any religion and the most number of practicing followers belong to Islam. My point is that..u can't demonize Islam , u see coz really the evidence that supports the validity and beauty of Islam is far greater than the fear mongering that certain right wing groups are engaged in.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:51 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I'm sorry but you're buying into a lot of bull. What about the people of Syria? Don't they believe in Allah? Why isn't Allah stopping Assad from using the people like a pinata? Because YOU believe something that doesn't make it true. If there was a time for Allah to show up it would be now in Syria.

      Christians have the same problem with their G-od. Where was he on 9/11?

      October 25, 2012 at 7:55 pm |
    • Stephen

      The numbers of people supporting a specific religion does not necessarily confirm to its truth. A large number of people are Christians yet a conservative Muslim scholar would probably deem them wrong in their beliefs. I also dont seem to see a lot of positives in the Muslim countries in the middle east that necessarily show it to be a productive force in those countries. The extremists versions of the sects have too much power and on accountability. Its kind of like if when the clan had power in the United States after the outlaw of slavery. If it came down to being Muslim or Christian during the times of the crusades, I believe the Muslim areas were more advanced and more in touch with critical thinking then the Christians of the time. Nowadays I believe the Muslim community has lost its advantage it had in the middle ages and needs to consider coming to terms with those of different faiths.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • Samina

      Things happen in this world and yes nothing is beyond the knowledge of God..He alone knows why He lets certain things Be . God says in the Quran that if He were to take to ask all the wrong doers , there will be no one left on this planet. But He gives them respite till an appointed time and then takes them to task severely. One should try to be patient whetehr you follow christianity or Islam. There is only One God..and the arabic name for God is 'Allah'.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
    • DavidInNC

      Our Bible tells us that Satans followers will far out number the true believers when the end comes.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • Joe

      There can if they say "convert or die"!

      October 25, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      God says in the Quran that if He were to take to ask all the wrong doers , there will be no one left on this planet. But He gives them respite till an appointed time and then takes them to task severely.

      Based on your quote NOBODY is good. Including you. How can a logical person believe this? The appointed time? Is that in a event scheduler? taken to task severely? If you're dead it cant get much worse than that.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Samina

      Well, even the Quran says that the misguided ones will be more..guess its true .

      October 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Hypocrisy, thy name is Carol

      So Samina, is the Muslims ever become "more", then by your own scripture, they are the misguided ones?

      October 25, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
  10. Cheeseburger

    You'd think by the way the majority of Muslims treat their women, there would be justified distaste worldwide, a distaste that makes them a scourge. And for those who would say "it our culture" I say "that's the problem." I'm suprised women of the world haven't stepped up to do more against oppressors of Muslim women. The only true War on Women is being waged daily by Islam.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  11. Todd

    CNN bashes God, then the Bible, and then throws this up. Right now their headliner on mobile is about a race problem... I find myself myself questioning the true cause of this network. I haven't read anything positive about Christians on this site, or at least that I can remember. Divide and conquer? Or perhaps major bias towards the current president. Either way, I find it disheartening. Prehaps that is the objective. Christians from all walks of life and around the world are in my prayers.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      CNN is not bashing the bible. The people of this blog maybe, not CNN. If you really believed CNN was bashing the bible, you wouldn't be here. Why do you only pray for Christians? I'll accept your prayer. I Don't believe it will do anything, but it cant hurt. I Don't want to stop people from praying. If it makes you feel better pray, please don't let me discourage you. I just want religion kept out of the laws.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  12. Fever

    Tried to post early, thought it went on, can't seem to find it, so testing to see it the goes on.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  13. Cheeseburger

    Really just don't want to hear about Muslim anything. They need to take care of their own first.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • jj

      This is the main problem there are many ignorant like you who just don't care....

      October 25, 2012 at 8:01 pm |
  14. ted

    No to American Brotherhood Party!

    October 25, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  15. david shoup

    Muslims do not need to step up. We need to stop stepping down on them. Most people in this world just want to make a life for themselves and their families.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:25 pm |
  16. snowdogg

    Muslims need to make a choice: Islam or the USA as first loyalty?

    October 25, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
    • Doug

      Do Christians have to decide between Christianity and the USA?

      October 25, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • Todd

      @doug if social extremists keep mandating Christians to pay for abortion against their will, perhaps.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Todd

      And how are christians being forced to pay for abortions?

      October 25, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Todd

      @president's nazi zombie LOL!

      October 25, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • david esmay

      Doug, disregard todd, he's a tool.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • Todd

      @david, you have no idea how proud that makes me feel to know I think differently than you. Thanks!

      October 25, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Todd

      Congrats on not backing up your assertions. Although I'm not surprised you'd resort to idiotic buzzwords like you did.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @Todd Since you're pro life are you willing to help pay for the babies you want to be born? Funny how the pro lifers always seem to leave the money part out of being pro life.

      October 25, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  17. Zuddy

    It will take decades to repair the muslim image that was caused by 9/11, the Afgan and Iraq wars. The recent riots in the middle east and the death of the US ambassador have only served to worsen this. Then there are the Jews who will fight you for every inch you try to take on the political landscape.

    October 25, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • No Religion

      The only way to repair the Muslim image is to stop being a Muslim. Choose freedom.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • Rs1201

      Sudsy

      You're what's called a closet anti Semite. Do you really believe that the only thing standing between Muslims being elected to political office in greater numbers is Jews? Muslims are actively engaging Americans in Afghanistan and killing them...decapitating them, raping them and dragging their dead bodies through the streets.
      It'll take generations to even consider trusting Muslims and personally, I don't think it'll happen. They've done too much harm and imposed way too much pain on the average American.
      Even Muslims born in the US get involved with terrorism and kill and maim Americans. Muslims have no hope in the US...it 's just not going to happen...too much blood has been shed and way too many tears have been shed by Americans as a result of what Muslims did to Americans.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Eliminate hinduism, denial of truth absolute by hindu's laires, for peace, Islam among humanity.

      Truth of Islam will be under stood very soon by people hind, fooled by hinduism, lies, decades, wish of hindu's, criminals, it will be very soon for their surprise.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  18. John

    Why should it take a Muslim standing on the RNC stage to get people talking? It shouldn't. However, only in the non-Muslim world can these discussions take place. In the Muslim world anyone who questions Islam in any way runs the risk of being imprisoned and/or put to death for blasphemy. If you wish to start a conversation please begin by telling us how Americans who are Muslims can reconcile the dictates of Islam which, according to the most prominent Islamic scholars, demand that political processes be subordinate to Islam with the American idea that there should not be a state religion?

    October 25, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • No Religion

      Islam = Prison.

      Religion = No freedom.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Dana

      These conversations CAN happen in the Muslim world. Take a trip to Turkey.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • John

      Dana, you are, in a sense, correct. Turkey has the most lenient blasphemy regulation of any majority muslim country. Fazil Say, for example, is only facing 18 months in prison after he was convicted of of blasphemy for making jokes about Islam on Twitter and saying he was an atheist.

      October 26, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  19. No Religion

    Who among you is getting a pay check from the Christian Church to promote Jesus?

    October 25, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Meatwad

      I like Jesus and I need a damn job.

      October 25, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  20. dontbow

    cnn sinks even lower trying to play to the muslim vote. how pathetic.

    October 25, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      I didn't know CNN was running for office?

      October 25, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • frank

      im high

      October 25, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Towelie

      Hey frank, do you wanna get high?

      October 25, 2012 at 7:05 pm |
    • dscon

      ken frank, n towel.................
      what substance you have?

      October 25, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • dscon

      Beavis, butthead, and anthony weiner all wrapped up into one?

      October 25, 2012 at 8:46 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.