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Long IslandSuffolk

Selden interfaith gathering seeks ways to promote unity

Omar Ishtiaque, left, of Port Jefferson and Jason

Omar Ishtiaque, left, of Port Jefferson and Jason Neal of Bellport talk during an interfaith gathering on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, at the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden. Credit: Chris Ware

People of different faiths and races came together Sunday in Selden to share their concerns and uncertainties after a contentious White House campaign dominated by President-elect Donald Trump’s call for a border wall and restrictions on Muslims entering the United States.

Imam Khalid Latif, an Islamic chaplain of both the NYPD and New York University, told the group of times he had experienced suspicion due to being a Muslim, such as when U.S. Secret Service agents questioned him during a 9/11 ceremony.

Latif said a woman who lost a son in the 2001 terrorist attacks berated the agents for singling him out.

“You don’t have to be black to stand up for black rights. You don’t have to be a woman to stand up for women’s rights,” Latif told the gathering of more than 100 Sunday at the Islamic Association of Long Island. “An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.”

He urged those in attendance to spend more time talking and connecting with one another as a way to change perceptions of those different from themselves.

The forum was just the latest of several hosted by minority and religious groups on Long Island since Trump’s election victory in November.

Representatives from local synagogues, churches and law enforcement fielded questions from the audience on what to do after witnessing a hate crime or discrimination and how to bring other people together in their communities.

“There is always something that you can do,” said Rabbi Steven A. Moss of the Oakdale-based B’nai Israel Reform Temple. “No one should ever feel helpless against acts of violence and prejudice.”

One way to deal with hate crimes or bias incidents would be to call law enforcement and report it, said Det. Sgt. Debora Gagliano, who works in the Suffolk police department’s hate crimes unit.

After the event, Gagliano said the main message she took from the meeting was a “need to build bridges. We need to relate to people and realize that we’re all here for the same purpose. That’s to live our life, raise our families, and it doesn’t matter what’s the color of your skin or anything else. We all have the same purpose.”

Chouehouy Sulam, 60, of Mount Sinai said he was impressed by the large turnout Sunday.

“It’s great to see everyone here to listen to this message,” he said.

To Mir Ali, 66, of Ronkonkoma, it was important to spread the word of unity to those from different faiths and races on Long Island.

“It was very helpful, and the imam had a lot of language that was very appropriate,” he said. “I’m hoping that people will see what it is like for Muslims, the things we deal with and that everyone will see that even though people are different, we still have the same dreams.”

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