Unity in Diversity

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aqeela Naqvi

TMO Editor’s Note:  This is the first-place essay, by Aqeela Naqvi.

COLOR Aqeela NaqviThe date is December 5, 2000, my birthday. I walk through the hallways to my third grade classroom, trying not to notice the butterflies in my stomach. People turn to say “Hi” and do a double-take. I walk into my classroom; even my teacher gives me a funny look. “Aqeela?” I look up at her and try to control the nervousness in my voice as I say “Good morning.” Throughout the day, some of my classmates shoot indiscreet glances in my direction, while others stare shamelessly. Today is the first day I began wearing the Hijab, a head-covering that is required to be worn in my religion for all girls at the age of nine. Today, I walked into school with palms sweating, ears burning, and a heartbeat so loud it could be heard a mile away.

It has been nearly nine years since that day – nine years in which I have received stares for looking different, been called “towel-head” and “terrorist,” been judged based on first impressions, and was once, after September 11th, a ten-year old scared to walk out her front door simply because of a cloth on her head. Throughout my life, I had always assumed that prejudice against people of other backgrounds was something that existed in the past: something that had been buried long ago by the dreams of people such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed in a day where all people would be judged solely on the content of their character. It was not until I began to wear a hijab, however, and began to experience blatant discrimination, that I realized that the works of past human rights activists had not completely healed the defects in society–they had simply covered its wounds with bandages that were slowly beginning to peel away.

From the day I wrapped a scarf around my head, “diverse” became my middle name. The more I was told that I couldn’t participate in certain activities, the more involved in them I became. I strove to prove that no matter how different I looked, I was still the same as everyone else. I could still participate in athletic activities; I could still be involved in public speaking; I could still perform community service activities; I could still be me. I began to understand that Society was a machine that attempted to create perfect porcelain dolls: the chipped, the flawed, the ones that were the wrong shade or the wrong size, the ones that were different, were all regarded as useless and thrown aside. I understood that I was seen as one of those throwaway dolls, but I refused to let society’s definition of me as such rule my life.

When I first began wearing a hijab, that cold December day in third grade, I did not fully understand its symbolism. I took it simply as something I had to do for my religion. As the years passed, I slowly became involved in my local community, donating my time and energy to volunteer at places such as my local soup kitchen, and getting involved in interfaith dialogue and charitable opportunities, and I began to realize that the hijab I wore on my head was not just a cloth; it was a mark of my strength.

It forced the people I encountered to get to know and understand me on a mental level before they judged me on a physical level. To me, everything that the hijab entails, the long sleeves and pants, the piece of cloth I wrap around my head, the aura of modesty – is all a sign of inner beauty. I have come to believe that all of us, regardless of our race or religion, have our own “hijabs” that set us apart from the crowd. All of us come from different backgrounds and have different experiences that cause the canvas of our lives to hold colors unique from everyone else. We all have a hijab that allows each and every one of us, down to the most fragile and faded porcelain doll, to have something that makes us absolutely and irreplaceably beautiful.

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Op-Ed by Rev. Michail Curro

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Executive Director, Interfaith Center for Racial Justice

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…

We still have a choice today; Nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Curro2011MLK2 (1)In the stunning revelation that US forces had killed Osama bin laden, we are all called to reflect on what this means and re-emphasize the necessity to lift up the importance of nonviolence as taught and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (and Mahatma Gandhi before him).

President Obama emphasized in his death announcement that, “we need to remember that we are one country with an unquenchable faith in each other and our future.”

It would great if we could put an end to cynicism about government, see rancor in politics disappear, have Islamaphobia replaced by trust, and feel genuinely optimistic.  Thankfully, through my work with the Interfaith Center for Racial Justice (ICRJ), I haven’t lost hope and believe unity and working for the common good is achievable, but only if we use nonviolence.

Each year our Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration of Macomb County draws over 1,200 people—gathering draws every sector of our county and demonstrating unity and common purpose.  For one evening, this most diverse grouping of community leaders commemorate Dr. King and re-commit to working for a better tomorrow for all.  It is a night where all seems possible to build unity and strengthen community while lessening bigotry, intolerance and racism.  President Obama’s vision and King’s dream—both so eloquently articulated—seem shared and attainable during this celebration. 

Still the challenge after each MLK Celebration (and today in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death) is to remain united, focused, and hopeful.  We attempt to do this by calling on community leaders to keep MLK’s teachings at the heart of all they (and we) do.  And not just King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, but more importantly his teachings about and use of nonviolence to initiate social change and to create the “beloved community” we desire.

Our efforts here may never be more important, particularly in witnessing the spontaneous celebrations that followed the news of bin Laden’s death, the quick call that justice has been served, and the loud public clamoring to see photos of bin Laden with a bullet hole through his head.

I am reminded that Mahatma Gandhi once said of retribution:  “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world will be blind.”  Or as Dr. King explained, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already void of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Like every American, every Muslim, and most everyone around the world, I am delighted that Osama bin Laden was finally captured.  It is a great accomplishment.  Bin Laden and his followers symbolized terrorism and violent death.  But I cannot celebrate his death or think that his death alone is equal justice for all the death, loss, pain, and expense his actions, and those of al-Qaida, have caused.  I caution us from expressing such hate and vengeance for our enemies.  And I ask that we learn more about and practice nonviolence—the tool that has brought about the most change historically (Gandhi, Civil Rights) and we are witnessing in Egypt today.

Central to the ICRJ’s programming (and to nonviolence) is overcoming fear, particularly fear of others and the recognition that we cannot lift ourselves up by putting others down.

Our “Listen, Learn, & Live” (LLL) programs aim to build bridges of understanding among people of different cultures and faith traditions.  Currently we are in the middle of our ninth module on Islam and Muslims.  And earlier this week we began a module on Christianity at a mosque.

LLL’s purpose, however, isn’t just to deepen intellectual understanding but to help build trust among different people that fosters relationships and ultimately unity in working together for social justice.

We offer a variety of programs annually, including two June LLL modules:  an experience with the Black Church and on the Chaldean community.  And later this year we will look for community support and involvement in our LLL Summer Camp for Teenagers, fall interfaith breakfast seminar, interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration, and upcoming 2012 Silver Anniversary MLK Celebration.

At this time of great social change worldwide, our community can either choose to follow the downward spiral of vengeful distrust of others, or continue the important legacy of nonviolence that brings about real and lasting justice and peace for us, for our children, and our children’s children.

(For more information please call (586) 463-3675, visit www.icrj.org, or email curroicrj@sbcglobal.net.) 

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