By Babatunde Ojo
When confronted with information, news, or methods one is unfamiliar with, it is common to rely on past experiences to form an understanding of what one perceives. That being said, everyone’s experiences are unique (i.e. one may follow the same path as the person to one’s right, but that does not mean they turn out to be the same people).
Consider the parable of the Blind Men and an Elephant, a story in which multiple blind men touch different parts of an elephant (unbeknownst to them) and arrive at different conclusions as to what they touched, with none of them being correct. There are several variances of this story, yet all of them share the same point: while one can be correct when relying on one’s past experiences, that reliance can also limit one’s understanding as to what the truth is. Additionally, if each man had pooled together his speculations, the group of blind men could have successfully come to a proper conclusion.
Now compare the elephant to the many issues we face today. Specifically with the rising tension among people with different views regarding religion, in this case Islam. During “Islam Awareness Week,” an event led by the Muslim Students Association at Rutgers University-Newark, there was an opportunity to listen to two established figures of the community, Imam Amin Muhammad and Ilyasah Shabazz, the latter being one of Malcolm X’s daughters.
This event began with two members of MSA, Madani Sheikh and Fatima Salam, reciting verses from the Quran, with Fatima providing the English translations. Following this, Imam Amin shared his thoughts on current affairs in America regarding Islamophobia and remembering that Malcolm X was a hard worker and inspirational human rights activist.
Imam Amin stated that Muslims (as well as all people) must find comfort within themselves and should not wait to enter Heaven, rather we should work together in making the Earth our own paradise. He referred to Malcolm X when expressing the utter importance of leadership and education, referring to not the education one would normally find in a school environment, but from reading and traveling to open oneself up to new perspectives.
During this event there was a Q&A, moderated by the President of MSA, Saad Admani. Both Imam Amin and Ms. Shabazz took part in answering questions from the audience.
When questioned what it must have been like growing up as a daughter of Malcolm’s, Ms. Shabazz brought up her book, Growing Up X: A Memoir, in which she details her life growing up as a black woman of Islam. She understands that there are challenges in day to day life and that the most important point to remember is to embrace being one’s identity, black or white, man or woman, or Christian or Muslim.
She explains that one of her greatest accomplishments is preserving her father’s legacy, in which everyone recognizes his or her individual power to shape the future. She firmly believes that it is up to the youth to shape the future.
What both Imam Amin and Ms. Shabazz echoed at the end of the Q&A is how Malcolm was able to explore new worlds through reading and how everywhere he went he had a book in hand. From his relentless journeys – both literary and physically – he had come to understand himself and his environments, especially when speaking to the multitude of people of varying social statuses all over the world.