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 • Islam • Muslim • Politics

soundoff (1,030 Responses)
  1. sisi

    Muslims voting? they do not stand for anything that America stands for.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • SwissMiss88

      America was founded through immigration of people who were ostracized because of their religious beliefs, so try again. There's an overwhelming number of Muslims who are American citizens and don't bother anyone one bit. YOU don't stand for what America stands for.

      October 25, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • berticode

      sissy, i beg to differ. muslim guy created youtube (jawed karim). another muslim guy created ebay (pierre omidyar)...

      October 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      Another Muslim created a plan to blow up the WTC and another Muslim created The Taliban and anotehr one created Al Qaeda. Another Muslim created the greatest nuisance of the world: "ISLAM."

      October 28, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      America was founded through immigration of people who were ostracized because of their religious beliefs, so try again. There's an overwhelming number of Muslims who are American citizens and don't bother anyone one bit. YOU don't stand for what America stands for.
      No one is ostracizing you for any religious beliefs. We do not care if you Muslims simultaneously raise you smelly behinds in a 45 degree angle five times or 100 times a day in an alleged prayer.
      But you should know that Islam is not a religion but a deadly ideology designed to destroy the host country from within.
      As you may recall, your hero the biscuit-lipped mass-murderer and Islamic-terrorist O.B. Laden said he would not rest until he saw the green flag of Islam flying over the White House; of course he is dead but his brain-washed followers will continue fighting to fulfill his nightmare. Islam does not consist only of raising your butt five times a day but it has an agenda to destroy the USA.
      Most Muslim immigrants and many U.S. born Muslims hate the USA, nevertheless here they are. Why would any Muslim immigrant live in a country they hate with all their heart? They are here because they know they have to expand their power base by birthing more Muslim children and to pervert the gullible, the naïve and the needy into Islam.
      Another reason we are worried about Islam is that mosques are used as centers to conspire to commit terrorist crimes. Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman "The Blind Sheikh" and nine other Islamists are serving a life sentence for seditious conspiracy, that is: To commit terrorist crimes on American soil.
      So do not play innocent victim because we know Islam is here to destroy the USA. “So try again.”

      October 28, 2012 at 11:45 am |
  2. Alex

    Imam Latif: Thanks for coming forward. Let muslims come forward. Speak out against hatred, injustice and terrorism. Teach the youngsters to honor people of other faith. Always stand for non-muslim causes in Islamic countries, uphold rights of gilrs and women. Take to the streets peacefully and raise voices against all atrocities. Preach and practice peaceful coexistance. Why I say this is because I lived in an Islamic country for decades as a Christian among all muslim coworkers . Well loved by them even today. Not all muslims are bad. I know it and I can vouch for it. But for God's sake please speakout.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Rnordquist

      Agreed. Stand up. Be part of the process.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • cwcw

      thanks Alex you are a true Christian

      October 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  3. reality check


    October 25, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • ari

      and? more people choke to death than die from food contamination. let's stop discussing food contamination and pretend that it isn't an issue because not "enough" people die from it. sound good?

      October 25, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      reality check:
      You wrote: “MORE PEOPLE DIE EVERY 45 DAYS IN AMERICA BY FELLOW AMERICANS THAN ON 9/11.” According to whom? Show your source of information, otherwise your claim has no credibility.
      One thing is common knowledge is the fact that in Arab/Muslim countries such as Iraq, also more fellow Arab/Muslims are killing each other; just look at the Shiites and Sunnis who are always murdering each other and blowing up each other’s mosques.
      As you said–in America some people kill each other such as Arab Americans who murder their own daughters for being too American. Other Arab-Americans join Al Qaeda so they can kill other Americans. Or, did you thing all Americans are white Christian people with blue eyes?
      Are you implying that the Islamist mass murders of 911 are justified because according to you, more people die in America die every 45 minutes than the number of people who were murdered by Islamists in on 911? It is not wise to compare and justify the deaths that unfortunately normally occur in a country to a terrorist act, in order to justify such act.
      People like you, who have such a narrow view of reality and no common sense are dangerous to our society. You sound like a brain-washed Muslim/Islamist, but if you analyze what I told you, for your own sake, it would be nice if you saw reality…talking about “reality checks.”

      October 26, 2012 at 1:59 am |
  4. Paul Nay

    "No Religion", I'd ask you to look up Unitarianism but I doubt if you have a taste for nuanced viewpoints. As for you, "PBUH", I doubt if Imam Latif agrees with you but he can answer that best.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  5. Samina

    Majority of American muslims are proud patriots!..Stop this nonsensical discourse against them!

    October 25, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      You say: “Majority of American muslims are proud patriots!..Stop this nonsensical discourse against them!” Yeat right, you mean proud patriot Muslims such as U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan?
      And who the hell are you to give anyone orders stop telling you the truth about that stupid ideology called Islam? You have no authority over us.

      October 28, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  6. MN


    October 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Chris R

      Go back home? You understand that most of them were born here. Oh wait, you never considered that did you?

      October 25, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Hey Bigot. Let me bust your bubble. When 9/11 happened who was in the white house? A WHITE CHRISTIAN REPUBLICAN. As a matter of fact every time a bad thing happened to this country a WHITE person was in the white house. SO TAKE OFF YOUR HOOD, READ A BOOK AND EDUCATE YOURSELF.

      October 25, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • berticode

      You are the reason, MN, that I will vote for Obama, even though I am a CHristian. People like you give me a bad name.

      October 26, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • Robin

      You need to check your facts regarding the requirements for presidency of the United States of America... being Christian, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim.... requirement...NOT!

      November 4, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  7. Rnordquist

    Amazing discourse here. In fact, the commentator is correct – get involved. Involvement leads to a recognition that our democratic society, imperfect as it is, is a place where all can live well and at peace. Yes it may take a couple of generations but it does come. We have heard this virulent, anti-religious nonsense since the beginning of this country. Rightly or wrongly it is a case of the last one in is it – the puritans, the swedenborgs, the catholics, the jews, all were "the next worst group". My grandparents spoke of the discrimination they faced when they emigrated in the early 1900's – from Sweden! I even remember my father saying in 19060 – "If Kennedy is elected, the Pope will run the government." Hysterical nonsense.

    Get involved. Become part of the greater community. See why people continue to want to come here. Why democracy and the rule of law serving the greater good results in opportunity, safety. And if its not for you – if it must be Sharia or Talmud based law or one party autocracy – then go to places where that is the way. You'll be happier.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  8. Samina

    For all you Muslim and Sharia haters, Pls, watch this-


    October 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • ari

      samina, dear, please name one country–any one–that officially follows any variant of sharia law that grants people more rights than your average western nation. don't worry, we'll wait.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Samina

      Dear ari, did u watch the video?..if u want to discuss anything, it has to be realted to it under this post..thanx 🙂

      October 25, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Rnordquist

      Good discussion. I am a Methodist and this was a very reasonable discussion (for any of us).

      October 25, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      Sharia Law provides many rights for women: It provides them the right to be kept out of a college education, it provides them the right to walk behind their husband and among many others, the right to be kept away from driving a vehicle but overall, it provides them the right to be wrapped like a living-mummie in a black, heavy and hot burka.

      October 27, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  9. PBUH

    All American woman problem solution. Sharia.Burqa. Stay home. Can not work outside.All women look same under burqa. That means no beautiful ugly discrimination. Can not check goods under burqa. Sharia now. Pi$$ B upon all who disagree.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • berticode

      Christianity too wanted women to dress modestly – not like American women today who are wh0res.

      October 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
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      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
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      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
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      "nope" degenerates to:
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      "berticode" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert"

      This troll is not a christian.

      October 26, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      berticode: You wrote:
      “Christianity too wanted women to dress modestly – not like American women today who are wh0res.”
      Therefore you are calling Arab/Muslim Islamist American women wh0res. You have no respect for Arab-American Islamist/Muslim wh0res...I mean American Islamist/Muslim women.

      October 28, 2012 at 1:11 am |
  10. ari

    ahh but here's the problem: muslims are amongst the most socially conservative groups in the country. worse than old white evangelicals, in fact. prior to 9/11, over 70% (!!!!) of muslim voters voted for the GOP. that party then threw them under the bus. and the democrats are far too liberal for them. so what's a conservative muslim guy to do? you want to oppress other groups (gays, women, non-muslim religious minorities) but don't want to be oppressed yourself... hmm... not too many good options here. maybe you could vote for a third-party candidate and pretend that it means something.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • berticode

      Make a snake your pet and the snake will bite you. Moral of the story.

      October 26, 2012 at 12:05 pm |
  11. Foreal89

    I have never seen a race of some many backward arrogant people that nobody wants in their country

    October 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Limper

      Kind of like how the Puritans were kicked out of Europe.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • DMR

      Then stop looking in the mirror so much

      October 25, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  12. Foreal89


    October 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • nking786

      It is time for you to board the boat and go back to where YOU came from. Dumb nut

      October 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Cliff

      Right...so all white people are from the KKK and all Black people are lazy and all Asain people are communists and therefor all Muslim people are Terrorists or extremeists. A) Obviously this is not true. B) Are you really that dumb to not learn from our own history or to group an entire commuinty into one box that only YOU think they belong to? C) What happens to the Musilm people born here? Where do they go if you would like them to go back to where they came from? If you are gonna say, which a person as dumb as you probably will, wherever their paents or family is from, then same goes to you, wherever your family is from, cause it ain't from here. But I can tolerate a person with twisted views as yours as long as you obey they rule of law, which is what we abide by in this country along with many, many muslims and unlike many other so called Christians. BTW...there is much more Christian extremism in this country than Muslim. And furthermore...extremism of any kind is not good for society which is what you are promoting. Try to be a bit more intelligent with your views next time. And thanks for playing.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  13. pinkfloyd43

    The basic problem that most Americans have with Muslims is that the group does not stand up and voice their opinion in regards to the various terrible actions, beheading, acid in faces, womens rights, roadside bombs, Mulsims killing other Muslims, the list goes on and on.

    When more and more Muslims being to stand up for what is civilized I will respect them. Recently we heard of Pakistan beginning to voice their opinions in reagds to girls getting shot for going to school, finally folks are speaking up but for years they have no said anything!

    October 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Chris R

      There are a large number of American Muslims that speak out and against the atrocities of extremists. They're all over the web constantly denouncing them. I don't know what you need to hear from them unless you want every Muslim in America to personally say it to you. That might take a long time.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • berticode

      The problem i have with American "Christians" is how they never speak against p0rnography (but watch it instead – or even act in it), they never speak against racism, they never speak against divorce rates soaring, or se x before marriage...but they speak hate speech against gays or muslims

      October 26, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  14. Paul Nay

    Bravo Imam Latif – may your advice be widely followed.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  15. Confused

    It is suprising that so many Christians hate Muslims: It just shows they are not capable of living in the Word as Jesus did; never did he have to tear someone down, called them names, and spread hate to spread his message. All he used was mercy and love towards those who knew and who didn't know. I am so petrified at the way Americans scream their hate against Muslims, even though I believe the Republicans offering him a speech was just a political move: same as that black guy they touted who was sleeping w/ everyone in his office (SMH) or Michelle Bachmann.. or anyone else for that matter for some reason they have a weird composition of people... anywho back to my rant: the American people are causing the issues w/ the Muslim community: I personally think we need to come home and stay out of others affairs and if those people in those countries want American citizenship to get out of the madness, we should help them. Otherwise, it will be 1000s of years if even ever that we will settle this "Holy War" debate.

    Food for thought- 1. If being Muslim is horrible, isn't mormonism the same thing? 2. How can we be a nation progressing when the racial tension is getting worse? Muslims are the new black people of the early 1900s in America 3. Shouldn't more Christians be striving to be more Christ-like? 4. You should watch the Eddie Griffin Comedy Special about this very topic.. funny but opens your eyes to a lot..

    October 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • No Religion

      This nation, nor any nation, can progress with religion. These two things are not compatible.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Jobwelldone

      At leave one place that USA for Humans, why do you want to butcher them. I am minority from one of the asian countries.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • ari

      "1. If being Muslim is horrible, isn't mormonism the same thing?"

      depends which strain of mormonism you're talking about. mainstream mormons used to be awful, true, but within the last 50 or so years they've disavowed MOST (not all) of the awfulness.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Why?

      Finally, a response from a well-balanced, thinking, and good person. This nation needs more people like you, Confused, they are either anti-religion, self-righteous, liberal nutjobs, or right wing, racist, selfish, big-bussiness pawns.

      October 30, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  16. steve

    I do not need Sharia law in my backyard, I do not need the peaceful religion in the neighborhood, I want them to go back to Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere, they are not welcome here in the US.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • HUmble

      Unfortunately, I am not obeying your orders!

      October 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • SwissMiss88

      ...couldn't think of another country next to Saudi Arabia, huh? The ignorance is astounding. Do you know who the people were who founded this country and where they came from? Where did your ancestors come from? If you're not Native American I'd rethink your stupid comment.

      October 25, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • berticode

      Dream your KKK dream son...but they ain't leaving. Now you can bite me.

      October 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  17. 24HCC

    I purchased live crab recently. When the crab I bought was being weighed, I noticed as it struggled on the scale that it lifted it’s right claw up to the heavens in what appeared to be "prayer".

    If Crabs had Gods, their Gods would be Crabs.

    It occurred to me then that the Crabs most likely were praying to Crabala, the Crab God. After scrutinizing the crabs more closely, it became apparent that this was in fact, the Crab Hajj. These crabs are being called to pray but instead find them self in a boiling pot.

    Where is your God now stupid crabs?

    October 25, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Meatwad

      No one is allowed to cook me. I'm alive man.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  18. No Religion

    With religion, there can be no freedom.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  19. PBUH

    Sharia Law Now or Never.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • 24HCC

      Is that a statement or a question?

      October 25, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • PBUH

      24 HCC This old Pakistani Muslim slogan.

      October 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  20. snowdogg

    "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."

    You got that right... Muslims need to speak loudly and frequently against Isalmic extremism.

    October 25, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • Samina

      No that we do very well..speak against islamic extremism..its just that media decides not to give us coverage as its not as sensational as islamic extremism. Its all out there, its what you choose to hear!

      October 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • pinkfloyd43

      I agree 100% speak up Muslims and let the TallyBand know they are stupid a$$

      October 25, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Foreal89

      I have no respcet for any Muslims based on the atrocities you maniacs create. You prey on the weak and run from the strong. I have seen your feverish battle skills on the field. WEAK

      October 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • HUMble

      @Foreal89: Sorry, I don't care about your opinion!

      October 25, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
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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.