2016-11-09 / Home

NYPD’s highest-ranking Muslim officer talks about building bridges

By JAYNE JACOVA FELD Voice staff


Gathered at the Building Bridges event were (from left), Farhat Biviji and Pat Sandrow, event co-chairs; Sameha and Captain Jamiel Altaheri; Imam Morshad Saami Hossain of the Muslim American Community Association; Father Joseph Wallace, director of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs, Diocese of Camden; Cherry Hill Police Department Chief William P. Monaghan, and David Snyder, JCRC executive director. Gathered at the Building Bridges event were (from left), Farhat Biviji and Pat Sandrow, event co-chairs; Sameha and Captain Jamiel Altaheri; Imam Morshad Saami Hossain of the Muslim American Community Association; Father Joseph Wallace, director of Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs, Diocese of Camden; Cherry Hill Police Department Chief William P. Monaghan, and David Snyder, JCRC executive director. One of the youngest captains in the New York City Police Department and among the few high-ranking Muslims, Captain Jamiel Altaheri does not mention his religious identity when he meets new people on the beat or even off duty. But in the nation’s largest city, where tensions over race, religion and class can sometimes boil over, Altaheri’s faith often comes up as a topic of discussion.

“I have to honestly say I don’t introduce myself as a Muslim; I like people to see me for who I am,” Altaheri told a large interfaith audience gathered at the Catholic Church of St. Mary in Cherry Hill on Nov. 3.

When the reveal comes, he noted, it often takes people by surprise. “A lot of people are shocked,” said the 32-year-old Yemini-American father of three. “[They say] ‘I didn’t think Muslims could be that cool: you’re happy, you’re smiling.’ They’re used to seeing Muslims in the media where they’re mad, screaming and harming people.”

With his rapid-fire Brooklyn inflection, easygoing demeanor and genuine smile, Altaheri said such reactions do not embitter him. He considers all interactions with those who have had little exposure to Muslims an opportunity to tear down walls.

“The more we can communicate, ladies and gentlemen, like we are doing today, the more we understand each other and can work together promoting peace and building bridges,” he said. “It does not make us weak; it makes us stronger.”

The event was presented by the Jewish Catholic Muslim Dialogue of Southern New Jersey, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the G.I.F.T. Ministry of the Catholic Church of St. Mary. In the audience were several dozen police officers from Cherry Hill and other local forces.

“Even with those who don’t like you or who don’t necessarily agree with you, you don’t give up on them,” he stressed. “Once we give up on each other, we give up on everything. What is faith about, what is God about if you don’t serve people?” 

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