September 10th, 2010
07:00 AM ET
Editor's Note: Imam Khalid Latif is a chaplain for New York University and Executive Director of NYU's Islamic Center.
By Khalid Latif, Special to CNN
I started fasting regularly when I was in fifth grade.
I was one of two Muslims in my school and every day when the rest of the kids in my class went to the cafeteria for lunch, we would head to the computer lab to play Oregon Trail or Where in the World is Carmen San Diego for an hour.
Even though I was doing different things, my classmates who weren't Muslim never thought of me as different and I didn't think much of it. I was more worried about why I kept losing oxen every time I had to ford a river or how people in my wagon kept dying of cholera or dysentery.
My friends just accepted me for who I was.
As the years passed, my conversations around fasting got a little bit deeper, both with my friends as well as with myself. The month of Ramadan became a month of introspection.
Not eating or drinking while the sun was up became part of a process that helped me to gain a better consciousness of myself. The water I drank at sunset began to taste more refreshing than anything else I had ever drank. I came to realize that I was privileged to have access to clean water to drink, whereas others in this world were not as fortunate, regardless of whether the sun was up or not.
Yet many of those unfortunate people were still content. Looking at the strength of others despite their hardships helped me to appreciate all the opportunity I'd been given. I began to assess my own strengths and weaknesses and sought out ways to improve myself so that I could be better for the people around me.
The meaning of Ramadan evolved into me looking at myself to see who I am. This year has essentially been the same. The only difference has been that as I have been looking at myself to see who I am, everyone around me has also been looking at me to see what I am about.
The place of Muslims in the United States has become the hot topic for people all around the world. Everyone seems to want to know what Muslims in this country are doing.
I live in New York City and the entire month has been filled with cameras, photographers and journalists wanting to show all aspects of a Muslim's life during Ramadan. Yet Muslims haven't taken advantage of this. We haven't grasped the importance of telling our story for ourselves.
Images from across the world showing Muslims eating and drinking at sunset have filled newspapers and TV screens. It is remarkable that many people see Islam is seen as something so different that they actually are intrigued at the idea that Muslims eat food just like anyone else. The conversation has to get a little deeper than that.
We are not that many years removed from a time when African Americans had to struggle to gain a recognition of their rights in this country. For us to head back in that direction, to infringe upon the inalienable rights of American Muslims, is unfortunate.
In a pre-civil rights era it was common place to find a cross burning or a lynch mob ready to let a black person know his or her place in society. In the last month we've seen a Tennessee mosque targeted by arsonists, a Muslim taxi cab driver slashed with a knife by a passenger after he learned of the driver's faith and a Florida church organizing a Quran burning event.
In anticipation of the November elections, political platforms are being built around Islam. We've seen politicians craft a narrative of Islam that furthers the idea that Muslims don't have a place in this country. In the absence of our own narrative, we Muslims have seen them get away with it.
Just as much as Muslims have a responsibility in telling our story, so too is it necessary for a broader American society to realize that Muslims have called the United States their home for many years and that we are entitled to the same freedoms and liberties as anyone else that calls this country their home.
This conversation is much bigger than a mosque being built in any part of this country. It is now about whether we as Americans can uphold the principles upon which this country was founded.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Khalid Latif
About this blog
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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.