Building on New Foundations > Standing Up, Reaching Out

New York and New Jersey

Waheed Khalid

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Human rights activist and former mosque president

The mosque in Teaneck (NJ) serves about 1000 families. We bought the property in 1979 and finished the building in 1986. In addition to Friday services, we have a day school for the very youngest children and an after-school program for school-aged children.

Our adult education programs cover not only religious themes but also topics like voter registration or the American political process. We also raise money for charities, to help Muslim communities in places like Bosnia, Kashmir, Palestine, or Iraq. The mosque channels donations through foundations, mainly Muslim ones.

We are a diverse congregation, with members from everywhere in the world. The majority are from India and Pakistan. Most people who come are from nearby in Bergen County – others come from the Bronx or from Passaic or Hudson Counties in New Jersey.

I was president of the mosque until the end of 2002, but I had to step down. I am a physician, I have a family — I needed to slow down. But I am still involved.

This community has been very proactive with law enforcement, which helped us a lot in 1993 with the first World Trade Center bombing. Some people were harassed but we handled it — we shared information, told people what to do if they were approached, and the other basics of community organization. We’ve built relationships with the local FBI office, with Sen. Corzine, and with other officials. We’ve tried to establish a dialogue with them.

Recently one of our members called me after a visit from the FBI. I went with him to the FBI office. The agent tried to throw me out and I said you can’t do that. I filed a written complaint and received an apology from the FBI.

On another occasion I received a very nasty phone call and so I filed a complaint. The police found the individual and he is on probation now.

I speak at every opportunity – about terrorism, the Middle East, Iraq. I say what I feel. My views are not popular with a certain segment, but I call it as I see it. Most people in our community say what they think among themselves, but very few will speak up outside.

Politicians are so one-sided. They never want to find out realities — and then they give a  blank check to the administration. Just before the beginning of the Iraq war, local coalitions sponsored meetings in Teaneck, Paramus, and other locations. Many people were very outspoken in saying what we also felt — that the war unnecessary.

Efforts to reach out and educate the larger community – to talk about who we are and who we’re not – have also helped. Right now there is a lot of misinformation and bias about Muslims. We don’t help ourselves by not explaining. Issues like Kashmir – nobody knows what the issues are, they just hear about Muslim terrorists.

The most common question I get is about jihad. What I am doing here is jihad, but I have no guns. It is what I do to make myself better, as well as others – that is jihad.

We cannot justify our cause with misinformation. Anything we do that is wrong, is wrong. We cannot justify killing for any reason. A lot of the talk today about “Islamic” law is using religion to justify repression.

Over the long term, things will clear up. More and more people learning about Islam. You can fool some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.