Talib M. Shareef talks about how an imam works, on Slate’s Working podcast.

Here’s What It’s Like to Serve as an Imam in the Age of Trump

Here’s What It’s Like to Serve as an Imam in the Age of Trump

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Dec. 9 2016 10:30 AM

What’s It Like to Run One of Washington’s Oldest Mosques?

Imam Talib M. Shareef chats about serving his community in the age of Trump.

Imam Talib M. Shareef.
Imam Talib M. Shareef

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jacob Brogan.

On the Monday edition of Working, Slate’s Jacob Brogan talks to Talib M. Shareef, who is an imam and president at Masjid Muhammad, one of Washington’s oldest mosques.

In this episode, Shareef talks about his responsibilities as a religious leader, and what it’s like to be involved in interfaith projects. What does his day-to-day life entail? What kinds of prayers does he lead? Shareef has also spent much of his life in the military—as an airman who helped reform the military’s treatment of its Muslim service members. What was it like to engineer a more inclusive climate, and what challenges did he face?

And lastly, how do Shareef and his colleagues at Masjid Muhammad deal with the regular threats that the mosque receives? In what ways has Islamophobia shaped his work, both before and since the rise of Donald Trump? Hear what Shareef tells his community when they look to him for support.

And in this episode’s Slate Plus bonus segment, Shareef talks about his decadeslong study of martial arts and how it relates to his more peaceful work at the mosque.

Jacob Brogan: You’re listening to Working, the podcast about what people do all day. I’m Jacob Brogan. This season on Working we’re talking to people employed in fields potentially imperiled by the results of the recent U.S. presidential election. These are the stories of passionate individuals doing difficult, hugely important jobs. Jobs that may get a lot harder and a lot more important in the years ahead.

For this episode, we visited Masjid Muhammad, one of Washington, D.C.’s oldest mosques. We spoke there with Imam Talib Shareef, who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a chief master sergeant and who helped reform the military’s relationship with its Muslim service members during his own time in the armed forces. Imam Shareef spoke with us about some of his basic responsibilities as a religious leader, such as leading prayers, and about his involvement with interfaith projects, along with other forms of community outreach.

And, he addressed the ways that Islamophobia informs his daily efforts, before, during, and after the rise of Donald Trump. Then, in a Slate Plus extra, Imam Shareef discusses his decades-long study of martial arts, and explains how it plays into his more peaceful work at the mosque.

What is your name and what do you do?

Tablib M. Shareef: My name is Talib Shareef. I am the president and the imam of the Nation’s Mosque, Masjid Muhammad, which is an 80-year-old community.

Brogan: So what do you do here as president and imam?

Shareef: Oh, wow, so that’s quite a bit. Obviously, both titles mean two hats. So you have the imam side, which mainly accounts for a lot of religious classes, teaching, lectures, counseling, and then you have the president side, which deals with infrastructure stuff for the corporate piece of the organization.

Brogan: Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to Islam? How you converted?

Shareef: Yes. I’m going to be a little sensitive. I’m going to give you some personal stuff real quick. I was born in New York. My father was killed violently, and so my mother got us out of there. I was maybe 4. And we moved to North Carolina, which is—that’s where I actually grew up as a child. In North Carolina, my mother remarried. And this husband, eventually he was not a good husband—domestic violence. And I was young—5, 6 years old. So, anyway, he was going to hurt her real bad one day. And she managed to get me and my sister at the time out of the home and went to her mother’s home.

So he apparently followed her and he was surveilling her mother’s home, which she was in. And I guess he saw her from outside where she was at. And he could have shot her. He had a rifle. But he decided, no, he wanted to be dramatic and get up close and he crashed through the window. The noise got everybody’s attention. So, I came out. You know, I was a young guy. He comes through the window crashing, has a rife. He’s getting ready to shoot my mother. My uncle, and this is a teenager at the time. Maybe he was 16, maybe 15, 16. My uncle, without hesitation or reservation, he just went right to him and grabbed the gun right in the nick of time.

My mother got shot in the leg. It was lying there the way she was standing on her heart, but he got it down when he shot her in the leg. And then my uncle, some instinctive thinking, he just fell back and grabbed a chair and hit him with the chair and he fled after that.

Now, I wanted to bring this uncle in, because this is what happened to cause me. I was not a Muslim then. Nobody was a Muslim at that time in the family. We were Christians. But I became endeared to him. I loved this—he saved my mother’s life, you know. And when you’re a child, you look for models. That’s why we talk about mentoring and big brothers and those kinds of things, and sisters, because you’re looking for models. You’re looking for the best examples. Everything this guy was doing, he was really something, you know.

So, he ended up going into the military. He left, went into the military. He was into martial arts. He was my first teacher. I’m a martial arts master now. And he was in the Vietnam War. But like many that came back from Vietnam, and he saw a lot, he was a lot of his actual friends that he grew up with and everything. And he lost a lot of them. And he saw them killed in very horrific ways. And he has PTSD today. He’s still with us today.

But he came back and like most of them you don’t get to process that stuff there. And you come back and that stuff is operating. And then you come into an environment where you’re not treated well. Now, we know that most Vietnam veterans, regardless of your race or ethnicity, whatever, you weren’t treated well. So people were angry. He was one of the ones that got angry and he began to join groups and societies, the Black Panther–type group. And then he joined a group, this foundation in his community was the Nation of Islam, but we’re universal now. And because I loved him, I went with him. I went with him everywhere. So, I joined, too, with him.

This is the movement that Muhammed Ali was a part of. Malcolm X. And Muhammad Ali, we know his story when it came to the military. So that movement discredited anyone that was a part of it from serving in the military. Violence was something that was not welcome.

Anyway, so my uncle’s service in the military, I told you what he witnessed, what he went through, his sacrifice. He’s a Purple Heart. Most of them got Purple Hearts. He’s wounded. He’s got Agent Orange. He’s got all kind of problems he’s got right now from that war. All of that was discredited. The sacrifice that he made was discredited.

Brogan: Because they wouldn’t acknowledge?

Shareef: They wouldn’t get support for it. They wouldn’t get acknowledgment for it. So, eventually this is what happened. The leader of the movement that was Muhammad Ali’s leader changed to the son of that leader, Warith Muhammad. He became the leader in the ’70s. And he was also in prison for draft evasion, that kind of thing, because father told him not to take the conscientious objector. But this is the key: He did something that nobody in America was doing, and even when it was not popular. He picked up the American flag. Despite what had happened in the history. Despite that he was really wrongfully imprisoned. Even white Americans were burning the flag then, stepping on the flag then, because everybody was upset, Vietnam, and all that kind of stuff. And he said if you all won’t pick it up, I will. He wasn’t just talking to Muslims. He was talking to all of America. An Ima Muslim Imam picked up the American flag and made those kind of comments. He said we have an obligation to support, defend, and protect our society. And he didn’t just pick it up and stand with it. He walked with it and let it fly—what we call Old Glory.

And then he stopped then and they arrested him. My uncle was so excited. That excitement came back to me, because when he picked that flag up and made those comments, he restored credit to the sacrifices that my uncle had made. So that excitement that he brought back to me, being my mentor, and I was a teenager at that time. You know, teenagers think about what they’re going to do when they grow up, right? So, I had other things in mind, but because of that, I decided to go into the military. And that brought me here to Washington, D.C. This community followed my career, my 30 years, where I made a lot of things happen for Muslims.

Brogan: How did you end up here? How did you become an imam?

Shareef: When I came to the military I joined as a Muslim, but I wasn’t—before coming to the military I wasn’t really living as a Muslim. I was committed but not necessarily with a lot of the practice. But when I came here, I began to practice a lot. I was in the military. I wanted to be a Muslim. But it was in 1979, which is to tell you that it wasn’t popular. They weren’t really ready for a whole lot of Muslims in the military.

I’m saying that to say that what led me here was this community, they were following me in an international newspaper because I pioneered a lot of things that weren’t in place …

Brogan: Masjid Muhammad?

Shareef: Masjid Muhammad, right here. They were following me in that newspaper. And the things that we pioneered were this: We had no Islamic chaplains in the military, so I’m one of the ones that pioneered getting Islamic chaplains in our armed forces, period. In fact, the first one came in in 1993. Good friend of mine. And now we have several in all branches of the service. And they didn’t have accommodations in the military for things like 30 days of fasting, which is known as the month of Ramadan. That was tough.

So we ended up getting through pioneering that, now the military supports as much as possible. They’ll accommodate that. In fact, there’s a letter that comes out of the Pentagon every year now before Ramadan that says Ramadan is getting ready to come. Try to make accommodations for your soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines, etc, during these times. And being able to pray. Muslims pray five times a day. And generally one or two of those prayers will come during the day in the military. And so at first I had to pray in closets, because there just wasn’t dedicated space where you can go. And eventually my supervisor let me use his office and other things, and conference rooms, but eventually we began to get dedicated space on military base. And now almost every military base now has space. And some very dedicate. I mean, they actually have some mosques on military bases. That’s really something there.

So we pioneered those things. They were following me. I began to be very scholarly. Began to study, began to travel. And military actions sent me to school to learn Arabic. How about that? How neat is that?

I spent 30 years in the Air Force and did a lot of things. They always wanted me to be a chaplain, because I worked with chaplains from day one. I needed the chaplains. They became my best friends. Because they’re chaplains. They’re in the military to make sure just that [you have] your freedom of religion.

Brogan: So from the beginning you’re already involved in interfaith efforts?

Shareef: I was involved—exactly—but this community saw all of that. And when I retired from the Air Force, which was six years ago, the imam that was here, he retired the same month. So they thought it was a sign that they’d bring me back here to lead this community. Islamophobia hit, too. So, when my life had been on the line and partially to give it for our nation for 30 years, they thought it was important for me to come back and be a demonstration of the loyalty and the sacrifices that Muslims have made and will continue to make.

Brogan: You’ve been listening to Imam Talib M. Shareef. In a minute, he tells us about leading daily prayers and about the way his work changes during the month of Ramadan.

So, can you tell us a little bit about what a typical day is like? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Shareef: Well, a typical day is real fluid now. The day really starts with prayer first thing in the morning. The first prayer, which starts at 6:30 here.

Brogan: Can you walk us through that first 6:30 prayer? What are the steps? What do you go through?

Shareef: This is essentially what happens. Someone will come to open. Obviously it’s that time of morning. Someone has to come here to open the place up. And then they will be appointed to make the call to prayer. And we have speakers outside. And if you come ’round here in the morning, you will hear that call.

The call to prayer is specific to Muslims, but it’s not specific to faith communities because they all have a call, it’s just different. Some have the bell, which we associate mainly with Christians. Some have the trumpet, associated mainly with Jews. But we have a human voice.

Brogan: What language is the call to prayer in?

Shareef: The call to prayer is in the classical language in Arabic. And, of course, if they don’t know what it’s saying, it’s really calling humanity to come together under the authority and under the guidance that’s been approved by the almighty, the creator of the heavens and the earth. And you have to turn to the person that makes the call. And this is how your day begins to be focused. And for me, all of us have to focus.

Your turn to what’s called the Qibla. And this is the indication, the direction that everybody turns. So, wherever Muslims are in the world, their direction is going to be— from here it’s northeast. It’s the house that they’re facing is in Mecca. If it happens to be in Mecca, it’s called the Kaaba. The Kaaba means to make connections. It’s a square house. A cube that was built by Abraham and his son, Ishmael. And the root word for Qibla, this is a classical language now, is Qibaliha, which means what came before.

What came before what? What came before you? What came before me? Where did I come from? So it takes us back to the first—takes us back to Adam, our common origin. And he didn’t have a racial identity, didn’t have a national identity, didn’t have an ethnic identity. So you always connect your life with all human life and don’t separate yourself from all of humanity.

And so I’m here, we’re listening while we’re waiting. We’re sitting up here, and we may grab a book, or I may pull it up on my telephone. They have the Quran that you can download now. And I’m sitting there reading.

Brogan: Reading silently?

Shareef: Reading silently. Silently. I will take two extra units of prayer. You know, when we pray, Muslims have a series of movements, from standing and they ended up prostrating, and then sitting. So, I will do two voluntary units before the mandatory prayer. And then I wait. And then when everybody gets in, it’s about that time that we say. Then we give another call that says it’s time for prayer now. We’re ready to pray; everybody line up. And when they get shoulder to shoulder, I go up front.

Brogan: How many people are usually here?

Shareef: In the morning, mornings are smaller group, because in the morning. It’s mainly less than 20 in the mornings, unless it’s the weekend. We get a little more on the weekends. But during the week it’s a little shorter because of traffic and everything. And the distance.

And then after that prayer, I will do a very short presentation, you know, something inspirational. When Muslims pray, the prayer that I’m speaking about, when we do the series of movements we’re actually reading the holy Quran in the classical language. So, some of them might not know what I said. I might speak about or educate on something that I read from the Quran. Very short though. Very short.

Brogan: Just a few minutes?

Shareef: Yeah, just a few, and just to get things moving. And then, of course, people will disperse after that. They try to get to work and everything. Because, of course, I’m already at work, unless I need to go back and prepare. Because I will come in the mornings. If I don’t have a meeting right away, I will come a little more loose in terms of my dress. And if I have to have a meeting, then I may leave to go home. I won’t bring that suit with me. I’ll go back and change and everything and then go make some meetings.

If it’s a loose day, or a dressed-down day, I stay. I go to the office and I immediately start going through my inbox, mail that’s been coming in. And I look at my telephone messages that I have in the mail. And then I obviously start responding to those things. And I look at my appointments, what kind of appointments I have to begin to plan my day. OK, we just had a prayer, which was the third prayer of the day.

Brogan: What time was that at?

Shareef: And that took place around 2:30. And so the next prayer would take place close to 5. And so that takes time. So that’s obviously clocked in to every single day I have to take time to make prayer. And you’ll see they’ve got small lines here now while we’re here. But you’ll see many lines lined up here when actual prayer time comes in. These are people now preparing for prayer still in, so they just missed the group prayer, so they’re making that prayer now.

And so that’s something that happens. The other things that happen during the day is I’m greeting the senior citizens who are part of the program–engaging them, speaking with them, playing. We have activities here. I may play cards with them. I may play checkers or chess with them as well. And we sit down. We eat together. And it’s social, just hear from them. You’ll find that happening during the day from 10 to 2.

Certainly I have to meet with the staff. We have obviously a staff that works here. We have two executives here under myself. One dealing with the external. One dealing with internal. And we have to look at the calendar, look at what’s going on. I have to hear reports from them. Today I was on the phone. I had several phone calls with different leaders who wanted to discuss what’s happening right now.

Brogan: Other Islamic leaders or with—?

Shareef: No, these phone calls, most of them are not Islamic leaders. Most of them are other leaders, from other faiths, Christians and Jews, and others. Because we’re a part of a lot of different networks. And they’re all concerned about what’s going on. And so I return those phone calls and we’re kind of meeting. So that’s happening during the day. And we certainly welcome that because we’re building coalitions of those who are concerned for the betterment of our society. And so we certainly welcome that. And we spend a lot of time engaging that and seeing what else can we do. And we’re speaking about events that are going on. What are we going to do next? And we’re planning for events.

Brogan: What time do you head home at night?

Shareef: Well, the last prayer of the night will happen close to 7. And then because we’re trying to shut things down at that time. But if I get this story real quick. You see we’re in the community right here. So our neighbors, some of them hear this call. And we have churches across the street. One morning, one of the preachers rushed over here after the prayer and he was upset. And, of course, we get complaints from time to time. Obviously, demographics change. People may not be familiar with the prayer. Anyway, complain because they don’t want to hear it at all.

But he came, he said, “You all made me late for work.” That particular day the speakers were broke. And he was using that as his alarm clock.

Brogan: Are there specific times in the year, holidays, Ramadan for example I imagine, when your schedule changes? When things get different?

Shareef: Certainly changes during the month of Ramadan, which is the 30 days of fasting.

Brogan: How are your days different?

Shareef: It’s different during that time. We limit appointments because we want to read. In the month of Ramadan, which is the month that the Quran was revealed in history, we try to read the whole holy Quran during that month. So we’ll start reading in the morning, and then we read it during the day. Obviously, when you’re working, there’s some things you go to do. You can’t cancel all the appointments. But the days are longer because we do a special prayer at night. After that fifth prayer, there’s another prayer where you do several units. And so we end up being here sometimes till 10, 11 at night. So my schedule changes. I take more breaks during the day because I know from the morning till the night they’re going to be a little longer. And then we try to read. The Quran is in like 30 parts. So if you can think of 30 days, then in that 30 days you would have read the whole holy Quran.

Brogan: You’ve been listening to Imam Talib M. Shareef. After this brief break, he talks about responding to Islamophobia and about the threat of Donald Trump.

You’ve talked a little bit about interfaith projects. What does that involve?

Shareef: Yeah. They’re diverse, and that’s good, because we have various relationships. And they’re not all they just come together and they understand each other. They’re not all like that. Some are like that, where we want to talk about how can we share where we’re common. And then how can we share where we are different without resorting into conflict. And then some of the groups are more specific in terms of what can we do. We need more affordable housing. How can we come together to put pressure on the city leadership for more affordable housing?

This is the civic engagement piece of interfaith. And then we want to know, we’ve got homeless people in the city. What can we do to help the homeless? And then we got veterans who are homeless. We have seniors who their taxes are getting real high. What can we do to help put pressure to give them some relief? So these are social things we try to bring about.

Brogan: So a lot of that interfaith action isn’t just about working for a collective understanding, but working for the practical common good?

Shareef: Exactly. Exactly. And I’m the president of the Interfaith Conference. Now, it mainly started to understand each other. What do we have in common? So it went from there, to what can we do together now. OK, we can come together and meet and talk together, but how can we begin to work together and share more?

We just did an interfaith concert. We also do awards every year where we find someone of one of the faiths that’s been instrumental in helping those outside of its faith in the society. And we just did that recently. And, of course, yes, we have to deal with terrorism and then the stigmas that are attached to that, phobias, atrocities around the world, etc.

Brogan: How do you respond to those stigmas, the belief that so many have that Islam is linked to terrorism? That must be a big part of what you have to do.

Shareef: Yeah. Let me give you this here. It really is consistent with what I did when I was in the military. Let me give you an example. I was in the military when 9/11 affected our life so tragically. In the military, because history reflects on society, so if we saw hate crimes and assaults and verbal attacks outside of the military, then certainly we’re going to see some of those things inside the military. A part of the mission that I was on was protecting soldiers, sailors, and Marines who were right on the front line. And we had many of the nationals that were of Arab descent. Some were Muslims. Some weren’t even Muslims. They were just of Arab descent. But Arab was demonized. Muslim was demonized.

And so some of the military people began to make disparaging comments. Began to make them feel uncomfortable in the environment.

Brogan: The people that they were working with.

Shareef: The people that they were working with. We’re all on the same team, you know, doing the same thing. But this is how significant it was. It affected them so much that their production began to go down. And this is why it’s dangerous even in our society to accept that, to allow that, because that means that every citizen can’t be healthy to make the nation, the country that they love, better, because they’re not going to give their 100 percent. So that 100 percent, it went down.

So the commander came to me. He asked me, he said, “Shareef, do something about this.” They knew I was engaged. They knew I was a Muslim, and I was educating. I was doing a lot of programs in the military. And so my mind said, What you want me to do, sir?

But what I decided to do was this. And this is what we do. I decided to do an education campaign. This was to educate them on what Muslims were doing. How they have been serving this country that we love for so long. And I put a list together of people. This was a military environment, so I wanted to make sure I had a strong impact. At the top of the list, and this gives you an idea how the rest of it went, at the top of the list, the commander-in-chief for our military was President Bush at the time. The doctor, his No. 1 doctor, was a Muslim. A Muslim. And he just happened to be of immigrant descent. Our commander-in-chief had given his life to this person to protect it. To service his life, you see.

So this is what we do. We try to find out how can we best educate our population on who we are. And how we all have made our society stronger, or how we can weaken it by not working together to make sure that we’re all comfortable in the environment that we call home.

Brogan: In the last year or more though, Donald Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims has really amped up and I think amplified the volume of some of that hatred. Probably made it harder to ignore. How has that rhetoric affected the work that you do in your community and with other communities?

Shareef: They affected my work and I have to speak more. Certainly we have to shape our sermons, have to be shaped to help give the people more assurances, or faith, hope. Because some lose hope. So I have to be more engaged in that. I have to be more engaged in setting up panels to discuss it, educational panels. And we’ve done a lot of those, and we’re going to do many, many more. And I have more meetings now with so many different groups now that want to know what else can we do.

Brogan: Are there ways that you are working to make sure that members of your community are safe?

Shareef: Yes. We’ve done a lot of things. I’m really grateful that we work with MPD and we’ve actually had them come here …

Brogan: The [Metropolitan] Police Department?

Shareef: [Metropolitan] Police Department. FBI. The director right here in D.C. He came here, did a town hall from right here. The U.S. attorney came here. So we create partnerships with them. And they help debrief us on what we can do and how to respond and how they can help us. Because that’s what everybody want to know. We don’t want them to fear them and not be able to respond. We want them to see us in partnership, because when something is wrong you think police, you think law enforcement, because we don’t have the authority to do certain things, so it’s important for us not to see them as enemies. And so we engage and we speak to them and we meet with them on a regular basis to get updates on things. What we can and can’t do. If we’ve seen something. We communicate.

Most of the arrests that they’ve made have come from Muslims. That’s a fact. And because of the relationships. And those are the kinds of things we’re doing. We had to enhance our security here. Cameras. You see the windows. Those are things in recent history actually. You know, we had threats. We’ve had telephone threats. We’ve had letters threats through mail. On email. If I’m speaking somewhere, it’s a social piece, you got some people in the trail. They say things that are threatening.

Brogan: What’s it like to get a threat like that? How do you feel when something like that shows up in your inbox or you get a phone call?

Shareef: Well, obviously it’s hurtful. You know, I’m a citizen, just like that person that’s speaking as a citizen. We’re in this together. This is our country. It’s not his. It’s not mine. It’s ours. And I know they don’t know. They can’t know me. They can’t know this community. They can’t know the history. And most of them are just ignorant, and that’s what we’re finding. I mean, I’ve served this nation. And I’m just one of many. And that was just the field were you have to put your whole life on the line for the whole country. And they obviously don’t know that. So to make those kind of comments, and then to say to go home. This is home. What are you talking about? You know, most of the people here, they’re second, third, fourth generation now. This is home now. There is no other home. What are you talking about?

We don’t want nobody to tear this down, because this is where we live. So it is hurtful to hear people, and we know that it’s going to weaken us, because we are stronger together. You know, diversity is what makes us strong. Our motto is “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” And that’s what’s happening. We’re falling. We’re falling.


Brogan: When someone, a young person especially, comes to you and says I’m afraid. I’m afraid that we are falling. What do you say to them?

Shareef: Well, I say several things. First thing, I have to remind them that we say all day long Allahu Akbar. And that means “God is bigger.” He is greater. He’s more important. And nothing is out of his scope. And whatever we are going through, it’s not permanent. It’s temporary. You see? And there’s always going to be more good, even though it looks like it now, and that’s why we have to have faith. We have faith people, so I have to respond to them and give them this faith.

The evil that we’re seeing, this harm, this hatefulness, is because they band together and the good is spread out, but when we come together we can reduce it. I give them these pictures of hope and let them know how there are many working for good.

Brogan: Are there ways that non-Muslims can help support you and members of your community?

Shareef: Yes. Yes. There are definitely ways that non-Muslims can support us. See us as neighbors. See us just like anybody else. The grocery store. We may be serving them their food at a restaurant. We may be bringing their mail. Maybe they’re a police officer that responds. Maybe they’re a person on the front line that just gave his life that you didn’t even know. Everybody not announcing that they’re Muslim.

Understand that and stand up for the life that stands up for you. Earlier in this year, and this is what happened here, we were threatened to be attacked. This mosque right here was threatened by a group in America called the Global Something for Humanity. And they had selected around 20-plus mosques and Islamic centers to do an armed protest across America. We were on their list. And they had us picked to come at a certain time. I was leading the delegation in Turkey. My community was wanting me to give them some instructions on how to handle this, because we were getting a lot of calls from religious leaders. Because we’ve got great partnerships. And they wanted to come over here and say we’ll be there and stand with you. We’ll make sure that they don’t even come near you, this and that.

And my instructions were this: Don’t do anything. I don’t want us to give any attention to them. If we do anything, then we’re going to be asked by the media about what we’re doing, and then we have to highlight them. I don’t want to do that. So just stay normal, be vigilant, be aware, but be vigilant.

But this is what happened. And this is what we want to happen. And we don’t want to have to be defending ourselves. This is the example of what should be happening. The neighbors, without us knowing about it, they had gotten together, and they made signs up and they posted signs. They came and posted signs on the trees, on the poles, right here in front the mosque, in the neighborhood so they be clearly seen that said, “This is a Hate-Free Zone. We stand with Masjid Muhammad, our neighbors.”

Now, my team here say they saw two car loads that fit the description.

Brogan: Fit the description of—?

Shareef: Of the group that was supposed to do the hate group. But they didn’t stop. We suspect that was the group. But we know they saw those signs, because they were very visible. And we didn’t have to do anything to defend ourselves. I just found out recently, one of the major newspapers in the city followed up on that. And they wanted to talk to the person that led that campaign. And they found that person. And these were not Muslims.

Brogan: The anti-hate campaign?

Shareef: The anti-hate campaign, which was not a Muslim. None of them were Muslims. But again, we live in this community. We’re their neighbors. They told this newspaper that if they had to, if that group had stopped, or got out, or had come to protest against us that all of them had agreed to form a human chain between us and them, so they wouldn’t even get near us.

Brogan: Thank you, imam, so much for speaking with us today.

Shareef: I appreciate the honor of having you visit us and certainly appreciate your time. It’s appreciated, as well as my time.

Brogan: Thanks for listening to this episode of Working. I’m Jacob Brogan. We’d love to hear your thoughts about the podcast. Our email address is Working@Slate.com. You can listen to past episodes at Slate.com/Working. Working is produced and edited by Mickey Capper. Thank you to Imam Ishmael, who helped us bring this episode together. Thanks to Efim Shapiro, as well.

Our executive producer is Steve Lickteig. And the chief content officer of the Panoply Network is Andy Bowers.

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In this Slate Plus extra, Imam Talib M. Shareef discusses his decadeslong study of martial arts. And explains how it plays into his more peaceful work at the mosque.

You said that you are a practitioner of martial arts. What are the martial arts that you study?

Shareef: Yeah, I study Hapkido, Pencak Silat, some Taekwondo, as well. Kung-Fu. I have a quite a bit in my history, over 40 years of martial arts experience.

Brogan: Do you have a favorite martial art?

Shareef: Weapons. I love Silat. Pencak Silat, from the Indonesia system. I love that. Silat is not a sport system. You know, most karate we think about it as sports. It’s very enclosed. You see all these highflying kicks and those kinds of things, but Silat is very conservative. Very rarely you will see the foot come up beyond the waist. And they do a lot of elbows, they do a lot of sweeps, they do a lot of crouching moves, and they’re good for ground. A lot of elbows. I think I may have mentioned elbows and stuff like that.

Brogan: What is it about that particular martial art that you like?

Shareef: One of the things about that martial art is it teaches you, and many others, but this is what I like about it, it teaches you how to follow the leader and to lead by following.

Brogan: When you’re sparring with someone?

Shareef: No, this is a concept now. And I wanted this—this is an important piece that you asked me, because I got it from there, but I use it in everything now. So, for instance, if you’re being attacked, they led with an attack. But I’m going to follow their lead, but I’m going to lead by following. And I’m going to take them to neutralize it where I want it to go. And so it helped me neutralize verbal attacks and those kind of things. I want peace. I want to take them to a place of peace. And I can follow their lead, but then I can direct that mentally, whatever, very verbally, to a place that comes, to neutralize that, where I don’t have to have an interaction of that type.

Brogan: So martial arts inform the other things you do in life, your career?

Shareef: Yeah. Well, again, I was a child. So it was a major part of me and the disciplines as well.