If a police officer pulls over a female driver wearing a veil covering all but her eyes, can he demand that she lift the veil so he can identify her?
Before a classroom of state police recruits, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, a Muslim scholar, explained that there’s no religious reason for her to refuse. She has to obey the laws of her country “for everybody”s security,” he said.
Questions about the veil and other facets of Islamic faith and culture are at the heart of the one-hour class, now a requirement for every New Jersey state trooper, that emerged from anxiety and acrimony following news last year that New York City detectives were spying on New Jersey Muslims.
But is one hour of teaching, out of a solid week of police training, enough to markedly improve relations between police officers and wary Muslim communities across the state?
Note that it is up to the state troopers to try to rebuild relations. There is no expectation that the Muslim community has to do anything to rebuild those relations. Despite the fact that the only reason why there was surveillance in the first place was because of Islamic jihad attacks, Muslim communities in New Jersey have successfully turned the playing field around and portrayed themselves as victims to whom authorities must reach out.
Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and a Rutgers professor, said it’s a start.
One result of strong backlash to spying by the New York Police Department was the creation of the Muslim Outreach Committee, a group of about 20 Muslim leaders and top law-enforcement officials that began meeting a year ago. The training, which is included in classwork this week at the state criminal justice academy in Sea Girt, is one of several committee efforts aimed at building trust.
“When we first started, there was anger and hostility,” said Imam Mustafa El-Amin, who heads the Masjid Ibrahim mosque in Newark. “Now it has actually developed to achievements and goals as opposed to just talking and airing out who’s guilty and who’s not.”
Almost certain not to be discussed is the question of where in the texts and teachings of Islam did those who are guilty get the idea that they should wage jihad warfare against Infidels, and of what can be done to mitigate the power of those texts and teachings to incite believers to violence. Raising questions like that would be “Islamophobic.”
Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said the training is helping to bridge the divide.
“We don’t agree all the time on every issue, but we do agree we”ll talk about them, and that has gotten us miles ahead in the process,” he said.
New state police recruits are attending the class through Oct. 11. Other recruits and veteran troopers will get the training by video as part of regular in-service training.
In a recent class, a few officers stared at their cellphones while Chaudry was lecturing. Questions were encouraged, but only two out of about 120 people in the class asked any.
Chaudry said it was a challenge to cover Islam in an hour and have time for questions. In his Rutgers class, he devotes 90 minutes just to talk about the term jihad, he said.
“It’s not going to change everybody”s view, and it’s going to take a lot more than a one-hour lecture, but at least it’s a beginning,” he said.
This article doesn’t say what Chaudry said about jihad for 90 minutes, but given how these things generally go, his talk was likely devoted to exploding the “misconception” that jihad involves warfare against unbelievers for the purpose of subjugating them under the rule of Islamic law. The insuperable problem that such presentations always face is that so many Muslims worldwide are behaving as if that is exactly what jihad involves, no matter what smooth apologists say to New Jersey state troopers. Recently when I debated Islamic apologist Shadid Lewis, I quoted numerous Islamic authorities teaching that jihad means warfare against unbelievers. Lewis in turn quoted others saying that it meant other things. So I then asked Lewis if what he was saying was true, why did so many Muslims, including clerics and Islamic scholars, misunderstand the concept of jihad so drastically? Predictably, he never addressed that. If Chaudry was spreading the same kind of steaming, pungent nonsense that Lewis was, and he probably was, it is understandable that some of the officers were staring at their cellphones.
The class was meant to be an overview to assist the police in understanding basic concepts, customs and wardrobe, said Paul Loriquet, director of communications in the Attorney General’s Office. He said the state police and the outreach committee will determine, based on feedback, if they need to have more focused training.
The class is a mini version of the 10-week course Chaudry teaches at Rutgers University on understanding Islam. He gives an overview of the faith, teaches about ethnic and cultural diversity among Muslims, and explains how knowledge can apply to law-enforcement settings.
He offers examples: that prayers to “Allah” are simply prayers to God, as in any faith, and shouldn’t raise alarm; that women may avert their eyes out of modesty and not out of disrespect or a refusal to cooperate; that businesses may have special hours during the Ramadan holy month.
Chaudry addresses preconceptions by talking about the meaning of jihad and the fact that Arabs make up just 18 percent of Muslims.
He recommends that police officers question whether an action or event represents a teaching of the faith or is influenced by culture or politics. “If a horrible event happens, is what someone did a matter of following the faith or distorting the faith for political goals?” asks Chaudry, who co-wrote the book “Islam & Muslims.”
In informal class surveys, many officers have told Chaudry they don’t know any Muslims or haven’t been to a mosque. He explains to them the etiquette if they should visit one in a non-emergency situation, which includes removing shoes to enter prayer areas and dressing modestly. Such lessons, he hopes, will improve outreach and cooperation in Muslim communities.
Hoffman said he has gotten positive response from the recruits.
“Those who are least familiar are most appreciative,” he said. “Things that may be different to them, they can now associate as being normal to another culture and not as raising an alarm.”
Maj. Gerald Lewis, a member of the state police and the outreach committee, said Chaudry and other members of the committee would be resources for police even after their class ends.
In one situation, Lewis said, he wasn’t sure how to approach a woman in full head-to-toe Muslim dress at a Little League game. He called a member of the outreach committee, who advised him to simply introduce himself.
Lewis, who took the class, said it was a meant for officers to get a better understanding of Islam.
“It’s meant to be an overview,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity to destroy some of those misconceptions [about Islam].”
The outreach committee has helped create a training model on Islam for the state Department of Homeland Security, Hoffman said.
He said the goal is to expand the training to local and county law enforcement, either by video, teleconferencing, or a website.
Mohamed Younes, a Franklin Lakes resident and president of the American Muslim Union, believes the lessons offer tools for police to judge situations and “know the difference from a real Muslim from a criminal or from a radical.”
The committee pointed to other achievements this year. The state has held two law enforcement job fairs that were advertised heavily in Muslim communities. Another is planned at Rutgers University on Nov. 16.
State officials also have made frequent visits to mosques to speak to congregations “” including in February when then-Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa told about 1,600 worshipers at the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson that he was “serious” about protecting their rights.
New Jersey officials have said they weren’t fully aware of the surveillance at places where Muslims shop, worship and study, although Newark police were informed that detectives were operating there. The surveillance, which took place in several states but largely in New York and New Jersey, was exposed in a series of stories by The Associated Press.
New York officials have defended the operation as legal and necessary and said they gathered information that was publicly available. They have pointed out that 9/11 hijackers rented a Paterson apartment and bought fake identification in New Jersey. But the surveillance program by the NYPD”s Demographics Unit never generated any leads, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati, commanding officer of the NYPD Intelligence Division, said in a court deposition last year.
Civil-rights advocates have argued that Muslims were unfairly targeted because of their religion. A group of New Jersey clergy, business owners and residents, represented by Muslim Advocates, filed a federal lawsuit last year against the NYPD.
Last year, state officials feuded publicly with the NYPD over its failure to inform them of surveillance, saying the lack of communication put their operations at risk and compromised relationships they had built with Muslims since 9/11.
Chiesa, now an interim U.S. senator, concluded after a three-month review that the NYPD broke no state laws — findings that angered Muslim leaders. At the same time, he announced the outreach committee and directed law enforcement agencies to notify higher-up agencies if they learn about out-of-state operations in their jurisdictions.
Last month, Governor Christie signed a bill requiring out-of-state police agencies to report any surveillance to New Jersey officials.
Chaudry said the continued efforts of the committee will help rebuild trust.
“I personally believe this is something you need to build up over time,” he said. “It takes a lot of interaction and going back and forth, but I feel there is trust between law enforcement and our community.”