I'll admit that I picked up Qasim Rashid's latest book "Talk to Me" with a little apprehension. I had no fear of the quality of his writing. My apprehension was in the little I knew about the book: a collection of chapters by different writers, writing about those conversations in their lives that had changed them immeasurably - conversations that led to realisations about parenthood, race, religion and education. I thought to myself, "oh Gawwd it's not going to be a mushy new age hippy love-fest telling us all to just get along, is it?" I was worried it was just going to be nice quotes on a page, divorced from the reality of the world.
How wrong I was.
Qasim's book is all about reality - gut wrenching, heart breaking - reality. And that's why I simply couldn't put it down. I was shocked by much of what I read - from the high school guidance councillor who wrongly insisted that Qasim hated women because he was a "Muzlem" to the police officer who pointed a gun at his head when he was pulled over (without good reason) at sixteen years old. It's easy to read statistics about how police officers in the US are twenty one times more likely to shoot a black child than a white child, but it is individual examples - like those that Qasim's book is packed with - that hit home the reality of the world we live in. That is, as Qasim puts it, the most important first step in changing the world for the better: admitting a problem exists in the first place.
Qasim Rashid, see: www.qasimrashid.com
It is easy to ask people to talk to one another - indeed, the evidence shows we do it all time with social media. Qasim's point is that we talk to those of our own mind set, with our view, with similar life-experiences. Our social media experience is about including those similar to us, as much as it is about excluding others different to us. Our purchases on Amazon so often are followed up with recommendations on the basis of what we have already bought. Our world-view is self-perpetuating, self-sustaining, in a world of experiences we choose for ourselves to reinforce only the rightness of our own perspective, and the wrongness of everyone else's. Qasim's book is a call to action to step outside your comfort zone and to approach the "other." You might be surprised with what you learn, is Qasim's message.
While reading Qasim's book, I was reminded of an event from my own faith tradition of Islam. The Prophet of Islam was subjected to heart breaking cruelties including the murder of his own pregnant daughter, Zainab. On account of such tortures for twelve years between 610 and 622 AD, he migrated to another city 200 miles away from Mecca, known then as Yathrib, now known as Medina. He was pursued relentlessly and wars were waged against him for six years, during which time he was forced to take up arms in self-defence against a foe greatly superior in numbers and resources. It was in 628AD, eighteen years after his claim to prophethood and after six years of war, that a truce was called. It was known as the Treaty of Hudaibiyyah. The treaty stated that anyone who wished to join Islam would be free to do so and would not be prosecuted or harmed by the pagan Arabs. The treaty was regarded as humiliating by the Muslims, for its various clauses that were biased against them. Nevertheless, the Prophet of Islam valued religious freedom above egotistical motives and he accepted the terms of the treaty. For ten years, according to the truce, freedom to preach Islam and to accept it was guaranteed. At the time of the treaty, the Prophet of Islam had around 1,400 companions with him. It wasn't long before the Meccan pagans broke the treaty a year and a half later and the Prophet of Islam marched on Mecca with 10,000 companions. Eighteen years of persecution, including six years of war, had enabled him to amass a following of merely 1,400 men, yet in a period of one and a half years of peace wherein dialogue and conversation were freely permitted, 8,500 further individuals, with their families, joined his community.
It was conversation, dialogue and human contact that won the hearts of the erstwhile violent Arab tribes. Muhammad's greatest victory was achieved through dialogue, compassion and conversation, not through force of arms or war.
(Trump in a questionable pose, by Gage Skidmore)
The United States today is a battle-ground. Increasingly, Americans are seeing their fellow citizens as the "other." With the rise of individuals like Donald Trump, everyday Americans are distancing themselves from their friends and colleagues, asking themselves whether they can trust that Muslim or that Mexican. That mistrust isn't just against ethnic minorities but is also from ethnic minorities too. Muslims, black individuals and Mexicans are asking themselves whether that white-guy at work is a Trump-supporter or whether that white-girl at university thinks I should be thrown out of my country. Suspicion, hatred and fear are on the rise.
This is precisely why "Talk to Me," by Qasim Rashid is a book that you can't afford to ignore. If there is one solution to today's problems it is to talk to one another, with openness and genuine humility. Qasim's book may be about talking, but more than anything, it is a call to action.