Religion has a galvanizing force that can catalyze both prejudice and social change. Geneseo highlights this power with the annual MacVittie Theology Lecture: “Racialized Religion.”
Executive Director of the New York University Islamic Center and Chaplain for the New York Police Department Khalid Latif spoke on Tuesday Nov. 14 for the Robert MacVittie lecture series.
“The reality that numerous minority populations in this country face … are things that we have to be acutely aware of,” Latif said. “Foundationally, in my opinion, we can understand the country to be rooted in anti-blackness.”
Latif clarified the insidious ways that prejudice can even affect people like him, despite his privileged position as a leader in the New York City Muslim community.
“I’ve shared stages with the Dalai Lama, been interviewed by Stephen Colbert and Katie Couric, been on the cover of Newsweek,” Latif said. “I’ve still had the FBI up in my house … despite all that though, I can’t tell you what it’s like to be black in America.”
Latif further wove his own experiences, his theology and the perspectives of others into a series of interconnected stories. One of the main memories focused on the different ways people treated him and other Muslims who lived in New York City during and after the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
As a Muslim student at NYU on 9/11, Latif was often shoved into the spotlight as people profiled and either verbally or physically attacked people they thought looked Muslim. Following 9/11, Latif experienced Islamophobia in the form of questioning at the ninth anniversary 9/11 ninth anniversary ceremony.
“I was at the ceremony in my police uniform—an Inspector’s uniform—talking and mingling, but I still had my beard and my head cover,” Latif said. “Three men approached me wearing suits and said that Secret Service had spotted me from the top of a building and wanted to check my credentials ‘just in case.’”
Latif urged the audience to use the tenets of love and religiosity when approaching injustice in the United States and the world. Latif—who recently accompanied international aid organizations on a relief trip for Rohingya Muslims refugees in Bangladesh—emphasized the apparent Western disregard toward the ongoing genocide in Myanmar of Rohingya Muslims.
Above all, Latif implored the audience to really listen and try to understand other people, especially those who are unlike themselves. The only way to approach the crises and injustices that pervade the country and the world today is through a real love and devotion for other people, according to Latif.
“You are at a university—a space that embraces and appreciates dialogue and diversity,” Latif said. “You can sit down and become informed and then you think of yourselves as potential partners.”