Waheed Khalid

Print this interview

Human rights activist & former mosque president

Waheed Khalid

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.

Politicians never want to find out realities — and then they give a blank check to the administration.

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.

Someone made a wrong turn in Florida; he was fingerprinted and interrogated for two hours.

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…

I feel like I’m still back in Pakistan, where you are put in jail with no recourse.

After 9/11, there were not many detainees from around here because it is an affluent community, but we heard stories, like the bad experiences people had flying. Someone made a wrong turn in Florida; he was fingerprinted and interrogated for two hours. People lost their jobs and never found another. Many people are still jobless.

I feel like I’m still back in Pakistan, where you are put in jail with no recourse. You have no rights, you can’t pick up phone and call the White House.

I’ve heard many reports of bad treatment in the schools. My grandson went through that. I went and spoke to the principal. He was not cooperative – he tried to blame me, my daughter, and my grandson.

After 9/11, my grandson couldn’t sleep. He was 11 years old when it happened. His teacher told him it was done by Muslim terrorists. Another kid came to my grandson and said, “we found the bodies of your relatives.” Kids don’t want to rock the boat and so they don’t tell their parents.

For every incident we hear about, there are a dozen more we don’t hear about. I was taking meals every day to 400 inmates in Passaic County Jail. Now people are learning the truth about it, understanding the deceptive statements made by the government.

My grandson was 11 years old when 9/11 happened. His teacher told him it was done by Muslim terrorists.

I was always very aggressive in offering assistance wherever it was needed. But I could see that many people were scared, mostly because they were concerned that someone would come after the mosque. Since then people have become even more reluctant to participate in organizing activities or raising funds.

If the service is offered, the community will participate. But if the leadership is scared they don’t come. I’m seeing that happening everywhere. There is a reluctance that was never seen in the past.

More and more people are reluctant to speak up. Nobody disputes we are a target, not because we have done anything wrong but because we have a different cultural and religious background.

The government has seized the assets of Muslim charities, but it has not brought a case against them yet. So money we gave because of our religious obligation as Muslims is sitting there after being seized by the government.

My son is a physician in Hartford, Connecticut. Two or three months after 9/11 he tried to wire $100 to his mother-in-law. Western Union called him back to ask questions about where the money was going and why, which they said they were required to do by the FBI. He got scared and called me. I told him to tell them to go to hell – to tell them, if you have questions, send them to me in writing.

Things have to change, because people won’t indefinitely accept the measures the government has taken. Many of us have been around the area and talked about what was going on. Now people are starting to stand up and question.

There used to be hardly any Pakistanis in jail. Now it is not uncommon.

There used to be hardly any Pakistanis in jail. Now it is not uncommon. In the mid-1980s, they kept issuing visas so people could come and stay. Pakistanis, Indians – especially [people working in] the Gulf – came here on visitors visas. People came in and worked as cab drivers, twelve hours a day, seven days a week, sharing rooms.

Many people have left. Over Christmas, many people filed for asylum in Canada – but when they returned they were arrested.