When NYPD Wears a Muslim Topi

March 19, 2009

Author: Harry Bruinius

Source: The Christian Science Monitor


Around five in the morning one day in the summer of 2007, just as Imam Khalid Latif was preparing for the salatul-fajr, the obligatory prayer between dawn and sunrise, the phone in his small Manhattan apartment began to ring.

He had been up late the night before, having just conducted a nikkah, a Muslim wedding ceremony, for a South Asian couple he knew from New York University, where he served as chaplain. Afterward, he offered to drive a few students back into the city, so he had not gotten home as early as he might have expected.

On the phone was an operations dispatcher from the New York Police Department (NYPD), where Imam Latif also served as a chaplain, having been named only three months earlier to the post. This was his first emergency call: Two cops had been shot, one fatally. He was to go to the hospital to minister to the families and fellow officers of the fallen.

He has had a number of emergency calls since then, but none has been for a Muslim officer or family. The eight members of the NYPD Chaplains Unit – a group of part-timers that includes Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Jews – take turns being on call. But even when the relevant denominational chaplain arrives, the first responder often stays. For six hours, Latif remained with the mother of the slain officer, an Orthodox Christian. She wept the entire time.

Latif recognizes the jarring cultural tableau he often presents to those he ministers. He is young, a 2004 graduate of New York University. Bearded, he wears a topi skullcap with his NYPD blue; his gold police badge bears his Pakistani name prominently. Indeed, part of his ministry, he says, is to help develop a particularly American form of Islam – one fully integrated into the social fabric of the United States.

“Day to day on the job, there’s the sensitivity trainings, culture immersion trainings – but it’s really about being there for Muslims and non-Muslims alike,” Latif says. “It’s a stressful job [for officers], and they need someone to talk to and someone who they feel will have their back, and stand up for them.”