Published February 23, 2017 on Philanthropy New York | By Clare Church
Imam Khalid Latif urged his wife not to get off the plane with him on the way to their honeymoon in St. Lucia. “You don’t want to go through this,” he pleaded. Latif, on previous occasions, had been stopped for random checks; escorted to detaining rooms and interrogated. He didn’t want his new wife to experience the same.
This scene, from “The Secret Life of Muslims,” is part of a new Seftel Production series that details the lives, struggles and amazing accomplishments of Muslims Americans, like Latif. Executive director of the Islamic Center at New York University, Latif is the youngest chaplain in the history of the New York City Police Department. Despite his positions of leadership, he is still the target of xenophobia, due to race and faith.
“The deeply entrenched racisms that exist in our country have to be addressed,” said Latif in the video, “not for the sake of a singular minority population, but really for the sake of all of us just as human beings.”
The videos were funded as part of The New York Community Trust’s effort to counter Islamophobia in New York City. In 2016 alone, the Trust gave more than $790,000 to nonprofits that published videos, hosted lectures, and organized local leaders, to counteract negative stereotypes and protect the rights of threatened communities. Along with Seftel Productions, the grantees include the Islamic Center at NYU, the Arab American Association, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and others. With the recent changes in federal policy, most prominently the so-called “Immigration Executive Order,” anti-Islamophobia projects like Creating Law Enforcement and Accountability, are more critical than ever.
Shawn Morehead, the program director at the Trust who oversees immigration grant making, describes her strategy: “In giving thoughtfully, and early, these nonprofits had our grant money in hand and were ready to not just respond to, but prepare for the demands of the last two months.” The Trust began making grants to counter Islamophobia in June 2016, and continues to do so.
New York University’s Islamic Center, for example, hosted events and lectures to explain Islam to different communities. It did this throughout the summer and fall, and immediately following the election, it held town hall meetings and “real talk” sessions, for New Yorkers to voice their concerns and offer concrete ways to take action.
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding used $80,000 from The Trust to launch the Muslims for American Progress project, which will quantify the contributions of American Muslims, starting in New York.
The Arab American Association of New York is using $90,000 to connect Muslim leaders, organizers, and advocacy groups in New York City. The Association’s executive director, Linda Sarsour, who is also featured in the “Secret Life of Muslims” videos, is one of the faces of a national movement of resistance. Labeled by the Washington Times as the “left’s latest star,” she was an organizer for the Women’s March, and even trended on Twitter under the hashtag “IWalkWithLinda.”
In Sarsour’s profile for Seftel Productions, she talks about her love of her community. “I love and breathe Brooklyn,” she says. “I have perfected the art of telling it like it is. That’s the first way you know that I’m a true Brooklynite.”
There are more than 600,000 Muslims in New York, according to the Pew Research Center. Like Sarsour, they live and breathe their boroughs and communities. In sharing the struggles and accomplishments of Muslim-Americans, New Yorkers are learning more about their neighbors and communities. And one thing that that is quickly becoming clear is how resilient and strong New Yorkers are, no matter their faith.