April 13, 2007

Chaplain Emphasizes Tolerance

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Last night, Chaplain Khalid Latif strove to redefine Islam in terms of tolerance and diversity at a time when many link the word “Islam” with “radical” and “terrorist.”
The lecture, entitled “An Islamic Perspective on Social Justice and Human Rights,” was part of Cornell’s annual Islamic Appreciation Week.
“One of the biggest hurdles for Muslims today is that for many Americans the only exposure to Islam is a lot of negative media — it’s the people being plastered all over the television screens who are the ones setting the standards. There’s a lot of active education that needs to be done,” Latif said.
As a Chaplain for both NYU and Princeton, Latif works with students of diverse religious backgrounds to establish understanding across cultural lines. He focuses on eliminating common misconceptions of Islam.
Kareem Mahmoud ’07, a member of the executive board of Cornell’s Muslim Educational and Cultural Association (MECA) hopes that the awareness week will encourage students to be better educated about a religion weighed down with stereotypes.
“Take a basic example,” Mahmoud said, “Who do Muslims worship? ‘Some god named Allah.’ But what most people don’t realize is that ‘Allah’ just means ‘God.’ Christians and Jews in the Middle East say Allah for God.”
Latif criticized the Muslim community in America, challenging its segregated mosques and passive stance on volunteerism and charity. He encouraged the Muslim students in the audience to reach out to those in need and take an active role in society.
“Muslims have to be those individuals setting precedent for all of the people around them. Stand up for people whether they are Muslim or not,” Latif said. He emphasized the need for Muslims to fight desensitization towards poverty, to remember the world’s downtrodden even when suffering is not readily visible.
Recently, Latif organized a group of 30 students, 15 Muslim and 15 Jewish, to contribute to the ongoing relief efforts in New Orleans.
“We did it for the purpose of allowing [the students] to have a dialogue, so they could look past religious and political differences and a society that dictated to them that they had no means to form a relationship with each other,” Latif said.
Mahwish Irfan ’07,vice president of MECA, hoped that the week’s activities and the presence of religious scholars lecturing on campus would combat the negative image of Islam at Cornell.
“Lately, Muslims have been targeted a lot by the media, and it’s important for everyone on campus to know the difference between what the religion really is and what culture portrays it to be,” Irfan said.
Universities nationwide have recently been recognizing a need for on-campus Muslim chaplains like Latif.
Brown and Yale Universities currently have Muslim chaplains, and Princeton funds the position with University dollars. Latif thinks that Cornell may not be far behind the other Ivies in establishing an institutionalized office to which students can turn.
Addressing the lack of Muslim activism in the Darfur crisis, Latif said that the creation of a Muslim organization was unnecessary in order for followers of Islam to contribute to the relief effort.
“There is no reason in my mind that we can justify not participating because of our own insecurities or arrogances … the end goal for us is not to get recognized; it’s to bring justice to the people who are suffering.”
Latif predicted that, over the next few decades, America will see a huge increase in the assimilation of second-generation Muslims into mainstream society. Instead of creating “a state within a state, mimicking a culture that’s thousands of miles away,” he supported Muslims interacting and engaging with the American community around them.
Bilal Khan grad, a member of the MECA executive board, echoed Latif’s statements.
“You realize Islam is perceived as this really foreign, exotic thing that people can’t relate to when really we are just members of society. People shouldn’t worry about it,” Khan said.