Public service: Faith, freedom, and a badge

To protect and serve

Usually, when one thinks of the police and Muslims, one imagines the police investigating the Muslim. That’s not surprising, given what you read in the news on a daily basis. But in my case, it was my faith as a Muslim that led me to dedicate myself to protecting my fellow Americans. Last year I graduated from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Academy and became a reserve police officer, fulfilling a life-long dream. I have loved every day of it since.

The journey to become a police officer, no matter your background, starts with a fundamental trait. One must have an innate desire to protect and serve the public with integrity while upholding the Constitution. For an American Muslim, there is the added sense of responsibility to fight so-called Muslims who launched terrorist attacks against us on 9/11, who have done immeasurable damage to the image of Islam, and who continue to threaten us. In addition, Muslim police officers can act as a bridge between law enforcement and the Muslim community.

But in becoming a police officer, I seek to carry on an important tradition of our country, and a mandate of my faith – one of public service.

Our nation has been built by people of varied backgrounds who work for something larger than themselves, and in the process make our society stronger, our nation greater, and our world freer. Along with fellow Americans in other fields of public service, we walk the sometimes arduous path of civic duty, a patriotic endeavor to be sure, all in pursuit of building a more perfect union for future generations.

Beyond civic tradition, faith plays an equally important role. Muslims are taught that one cannot be an idle member of society. In Islam, a manifestation of faith is to actively contribute to the betterment of life, even though doing so may be difficult.

Islam teaches in the Quran in Chapter 4, verse 95:

“Such of the believers as remain passive – other than the disabled – cannot be deemed equal to those who strive hard in God’s cause with their possessions and their lives: God has exalted those who strive hard with their possessions and their lives far above those who remain passive…”

And so given the day-and-age we live in, we American Muslims have a special role to play. Since September 11th, we’ve struggled with the specter of terrorism being visited upon our shores; the relative newness of Islam in America and the corresponding difficulty of acceptance and integration; events in the Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan; and the overall nexus between the Muslim world and US national security. All this and more coalesce, and require a holistic understanding to help protect and guide our nation in turbulent times.

But as one would expect, being a police officer is very much a “street level” job, where the dirt and grit of the city gets under your fingernails. There are experiences that can only be had as a police officer. I have had dialogues with Jews in polite interfaith gatherings in the past. But on my first week of patrol I was partnered with a female Orthodox Jew who served in the Israeli Defense Forces. Together we chased down and tackled a suspect high on drugs running through a public park playground. While she and I have certain political and religious differences, those vanished when we were thrown into the cauldron. When on patrol we depend on each other for our lives. This “only in America,” transformative experience has contributed to my love for police work.

Then there was the Gaza flotilla crisis in May 2010, where emotions were running high, and hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered in front of the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles. I, along with a cadre of other officers, stood in a circle around a lone teenage Jewish boy waving an Israeli flag in front of an impassioned pro-Palestinian crowd. The boy was adamant in his views, and put himself in danger to express them, and while I may not have personally agreed with his views, I was equally adamant about defending his Constitutional right to express them. Again, another “only in America,” personally transformative experience.

The principles found in our Constitution, the freedoms we enjoy in this nation, the rights our citizenry have, the mosaic of our people, this and much more make it the greatest nation on earth. I am truly proud and blessed to be an American.

And I am blessed to have been raised a Muslim. I proudly follow the religion of Islam, a faith that calls for equality, mercy, freedom, peace, and justice. But sadly my faith finds itself back in the Dark Ages because those very values and freedoms, which we have here in America, are lacking in the Muslim world. A renaissance is needed.

In the meantime, I find myself at the intersection of citizenship, faith, and law enforcement with the LAPD, and it has been an experience like no other. It promises continued opportunity – opportunity to protect my city and my nation, the opportunity to serve my fellow human being, and the opportunity to live the congruent values of my faith and my Constitution.

Omar Ricci is a Reserve Police Officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, a former National Chairperson of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and an Executive Committee member of the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress.

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