Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna are chaplains at New York University where they run the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life which has become a leading model for interfaith university programs.
Remembering 9-11, both men say they were university students in New York and were profoundly affected, both spiritually and as New Yorkers. Reflecting on the aftermath, Imam Latif says that many of his peers felt forced to stop outwardly identifying as Muslim, and thereby shaved their beards and stopped wearing the hijab. “I didn’t understand why, at a time when people had so many questions, many of us were taking steps back.” However, he was encouraged by one thing – an outpouring of support from his non-Muslim friends who encouraged him to stand up for his faith and “to tell people, ‘This is what we believe in, this is who we are, this is what our values actually are.”
Today, Imam Latif and Rabbi Sarna both believe that fostering interfaith relationships is vital. Students at NYU are encouraged to attend each other’s religious services, and there are several interfaith clubs. Student Sana Mayat, who is Muslim, says experiencing Jewish Shabbat has enriched her own Islamic practice. “We are concerned not about what’s said in the books, but what people are saying in the street,” says Rabbi Sarna. “The kind of engagement we are looking for is very much personal.”