This past weekend, we had our 12th Anniversary Benefit Dinner… with Imam Khalid Latif as our keynote speaker.
For those of you who don’t know, Imam Khalid is the Director and Chaplain of the Islamic Center at New York University. He was part of the interfaith service with Pope Francis at the 9/11 memorial last year and a pretty sought-after speaker within the Muslim community, as well. In other words, he’s a big deal. As someone who’s had a brief taste of Islamic scholarship and the world of interfaith, I was super pumped that we, a small non-profit in the suburbs of Chicago, were able to get such a heavyweight to speak at our fundraiser.
I wasn’t nervous initially. I wasn’t even sure if I would be going to the dinner (I work remotely from Indiana). Then, about a week ago, our former executive director emails me, saying that the board would like for me to read the translation of the Qur’anic verses that will be recited in the opening and to offer a reflection based on the theme of the evening. Normally, I’d decline any offer to speak, but I couldn’t say no to reading the Qur’an.
That’s when the nervousness began. I kept on thinking, “I’m going to be sharing a stage with Imam Khalid Latif.” We wouldn’t be on at the same time. But still.
I was fine with reading the translation; I wasn’t expected to memorize it. As long as I made sure to read it slowly and enunciate, I would be okay. The reflection is what I was afraid of. Public speaking is not something that comes easily to me. I was pretty much a nervous wreck the entire evening. As I spoke into the mic, I was sure my voice was wavering, going in and out, but I kept on reading because I did not want to be on stage any longer than I needed to be. And then it was done. I’m not saying that I blew it out of the water, but I got some positive comments from a few people. And later my husband, not shy to give constructive criticism, assured me that he couldn’t tell that I was nervous. I will take that as a job well done.
Also, Khalid Latif replied to my tweet. So, it was all worth it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t really enjoy Imam Khalid’s speech because I had to help tally the pledges. And even if I did get a moment to catch a few words, my mind was all over the place.
The following day, one of our board members hosted a brunch reception for Imam Latif. And I was one of the few lucky people to get an invite! It was really casual, but I, of course, was super nervous. I wanted to go up to him and be like, “Hey! I wanted to be a chaplain once upon a time ago. Can you give me advice?” But unfortunately, I am not my husband and don’t have the talent of being able to talk to just about anyone.
However, thanks to the prodding of another board member in whom I confided my wish to speak to him – she literally walked me to where he was, holding my hand, and told him that we wanted to talk to him – I had an actual conversation with Imam Khalid Latif! He talked about how he got started at NYU, the nature of his work, and other things that I can’t now remember because my heart was racing. And then I just laid my question on him: “Can I be a chaplain?”
Honestly, I haven’t given chaplaincy much serious thought these past few months. But one thing I learned from him is that you can’t really plan for anything. You just have to try.
Somewhat empowered by our conversation, as we were about to make our way back to Indy, I ran up to my husband and asked him if we could take a picture of us with Imam Latif. I was too shy to ask him myself. I only had the nerve to suggest this when I saw the hosts taking one. My husband, who will never say no to having his picture taken, was more than cool with it and Imam Latif, who is an incredibly nice person, obliged.
I’m not exactly sure if chaplaincy is indeed the path for me. But I will say that I have a greater confidence in myself as a result of this weekend. I learned that when it comes to public speaking, for the most part it may just be in my head. Secondly and more importantly, even though I don’t have the typical pedagogical training, I know my experiences are not for naught. I just have to be patient that they will all come together in due time.