With the deepening trust deficit between the American Muslim community—especially in the New York area—and law enforcement, how can figures of authority effectively engage with Muslims?

The problem here is that actions like the NYPD spying program are counterproductive to developing trusting relationships between the American Muslim community and law enforcement agencies. Before this, law enforcement agencies were making progress by showing good faith in visiting large mosques across the country and engaging the American Muslim community in dialogue, thus promoting trust and cooperation. We now know that surveillance was ongoing even during this time. It's going to take a good deal of work to bounce back from this betrayal, but I do believe it can happen. Law enforcement needs to work closely with American Muslim leaders to remedy this wounded relationship.

How should American Muslims practice their faith and live their lives in light of these events?

American Muslims should not be afraid to practice their faith and conduct their lives freely. We cannot allow these surveillance methods to weaken our faith in the American democratic system. At the end of the day, being a good Muslim means being a good citizen of your country. There is absolutely no contradiction in practicing our faith freely and being proud Americans.

Do you feel comfortable living your life as a Muslim in America?

I absolutely feel comfortable living my life as a Muslim in America. As Americans, we have more religious and personal freedoms than citizens of just about any other country in the world. This nation was founded upon the principle of religious freedom and I am so blessed to call myself an American.


With the deepening trust deficit between the American Muslim community—especially in the New York area—and law enforcement, how can figures of authority effectively engage with Muslims?

Building trust is hard. Rebuilding it is even harder. At this point, certain figures of authority in New York City are rapidly losing the trust of the Muslim community, and the first question is—do they want it back? If yes, on whose terms? That is a loaded question, and the response will determine the effectiveness of their future engagement with the Muslim community. Lasting mutual trust is based on shared terms, and, to some extent, common goals. If the Muslim community is expected to trust, the Muslim community must be trusted in return. The community must to be treated as an ally.

We are at a low point where there is a complete communication breakdown. There is a public war of words, but no formal avenues for constructive communication between the parties. The first trust building action would be public acknowledgment of Muslim outrage and disappointment, and the second would be the creation of proactive constructive lines of communication and other means of dialogue with trusted figures of authority.

How should American Muslims practice their faith and live their lives in light of these events?

In America, we are free to practice our faith and live our lives in the best way we know how and we must do so. Challenges are a part of life. This is not the first challenge the American Muslim community has faced in America, and it is certainly not the last. We are protected by the rules and laws governing this country and as long as we are law abiding citizens, our voices and actions should not be limited by others. Like everyone else in this world, we have one life to live and we should not feel limited by anyone, but God, in living that life.

Do you feel comfortable living your life as a Muslim in America?

I feel very comfortable living my life as a Muslim in America. Being the "other" is not new to me. When I was growing up, I was the "other"—but I was exotic. No one knew where India was, much less what being a Muslim meant, but I was celebrated as unique. Everyone wanted to hear my story. Post-9/11, I went from being celebrated to being the "feared other." That was a terrible feeling. It still is. One thing I have realized though is that fear is a real emotion. It must be acknowledged, and it is often fed by a lack of knowledge. How can we make people fear us less? By filling the knowledge gap. We have to be comfortable enough in our own skin and we must have the courage and the desire to tell our stories.