The question above was recently posed by 28-year-old New York University Imam Khalid Latif during a class session teaching Muslims about Ramadan. Latif, a Princeton graduate and also the youngest chaplain ever of the New York City Police Department, has gained a strong following throughout the Northeast and among English-speaking Muslims around the world through his social justice-oriented khutbahs, or Friday sermons, posted through podcasts. His Ramadan class lectures and khutbahs pose questions rarely discussed within Muslim communities and often hit at the heart of the Prophet Muhammad’s most emphasized point: lead by example and don’t judge others.
Some see a thin line between non-critical religious observance and not judging others, but Latif consistently references hadith (sayings) and sunnah (actions) of the Prophet Muhammad that denounce self-righteousness. Unfortunately, despite the countless clear examples from the Qur’an and the Prophet Muhammad emphasizing the importance of loving each and every person and meeting them where they are in their spiritual journey, some mosques fail to create a safe and welcome environment for many Muslims.
In many faiths, fear is too often used to motivate followers to adhere to rigid interpretations and rituals. Patterns of worship and devotion can be beautiful expressions of love and life, but all too often it is the opinions of a few that dictate expectations, with an aim to control one’s relationship with the divine. Consequently, the ideally sacred and safe space of a mosque can become tainted by negative energy, even occasionally creating a hostile environment. See this video (from 45:15 onwards) for an interesting perspective on pushing believers further away from their faith. It is a shame when any spiritual space becomes corrupted by the judgments, criticisms, and egos of religious leaders, scholars, or followers.
In highlighting the pervasive nature of the lack of acceptance within religious communities, Latif brought up the miniskirt scenario as a test of faith, at an individual and a communal level. Regardless of one’s current state, Latif emphasizes that everyone should be welcomed to pray. “Your tongue has been given to you as a way of being closer to others and closer to the divine,” he told students at a recent Ramadan class. “Think of how you use your tongue.”
The NYU Islamic Center, set amid one of the hipper areas of New York, and housed in the basement of a Catholic Church built in 1883, practices what it preaches, and every Friday for Jummah, Latif leads what may be one of the most diverse Muslim congregations in the world. People of all walks of life come together to hear Latif speak of the love, compassion, and charity that Islam teaches its followers. If someone was to come into the lower-level mosque wearing a miniskirt, it’s likely that Latif and others would welcome them into their space to pray and learn more about the faith tradition. Let’s hope that other mosques can learn from this example and emulate the Center’s moto: “[this is] What Community Should Feel Like.”
Have you ever been harshly judged by a follower of your same faith tradition? Is there a line between informing another on a religious principle and judging them, and if so, what examples may make that line difficult to distinguish? If you’re a Muslim man or woman, what you would do or say if a someone walked into your mosque in a miniskirt? Please leave your comments below.