Among All Faiths, Ministries for a Crisis

October 3, 2008

Author: Samuel G. Freedman

Source: The New York Times

Several weeks ago, before the earth cracked open on Wall Street, Imam Khalid Latif had a chat with one of his regular worshipers at the Muslim center at New York University. This young man, a business student, had a theological complaint to register. Why did Islam make such a big deal about the principle of mutual benefit? What was the matter with just taking care of yourself?

About 10 days later, with the landscape marked by the bankruptcy, emergency sale and federal bailout of some of the nation’s most venerable financial companies, a more abashed version of that same student returned. “Now I know why I can’t define security by the number of zeroes on my paycheck,” Imam Latif, N.Y.U.’s Muslim chaplain, recalled the man saying.

Presented with the spiritual equivalent of what educators call a “teachable moment,” Imam Latif spoke to the student about the humility, perseverance and especially the Islamic concept of sabr, meaning “patience.” He offered a hadith from the Muslim tradition: “Patience comes at the first sign of calamity.”

Variations of the imam’s conversation have been proceeding in virtually every faith these last few weeks, especially for clergy members who have a following among the investors, executives and employees of the shaken financial industry. They are practicing ministry for a meltdown.

“There is no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole,” goes the wartime cliché. As if to make the truism even truer, the recent financial troubles have coincided with two religious periods devoted to soul-searching — the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish “days of awe” culminating in Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.