Erhan Yildirim, a funeral director, is the New York Police Department’s part-time civilian liaison of the NYPD to Muslims throughout the city. Says the Washington Post: “At once, he is trying to redeem the name of the police department to Muslims and the reputation of Islam to police officers.” Arabs and South Asians form the largest immigrant groups among the city’s 600,000 Muslims. Yildirim, born in Germany to Turkish parents and educated at an Islamic high school in Istanbul — knows only prayers and hellos in Arabic and no Urdu at all. He says that’s no problem — “For Muslim culture you know everything about them because you believe in the same faith. I know the terminology, I know the culture really well. I know the greetings.”
When Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly holds meetings at mosques, Yildirim is right there at his side. Yildirim briefs the commissioner biweekly and has produced a video and cheat sheet on Islam for police. It’s a patchwork job the commissioner improvised in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, when government officials combed Muslim neighborhoods for evidence of terrorist activity and immigration violations, and Muslims became fearful.