On Thursday, Jan. 16, author and activist Qasim Rashid came to the Niagara Foundation to discuss his inspiration for his first book, The Wrong Kind of Muslim, at a Niagara Forum. He is well known for his extensive work in the fields of Islam and human rights and has won numerous awards for his activism and writing. Rashid has been a regular guest of media outlets such as NBC, CBS and the New York Times and also blogs for The Huffington Post, Washington Post and CNN. As a vocal human rights activist, Mr. Rashid has dedicated much of his work to fighting prejudice.
Rashid began his discussion with an emphasis on the importance of choice.
“Everything we do is a choice,” Rashid said. “From the lives we live, the people we interact with, and the narrative we want to write.”
This notion of choice and its correlation to narrative is what inspired Rashid to write The Wrong Kind of Muslim. He saw a narrative of Islam being written by terrorist organizations and wanted to expose the world to the Islam he has known, one of pluralism and tolerance.
“Hundreds of thousands of Americans got their first introduction to Islam on Sept. 11,” Rashid said. “Extremist organizations will continue to take headlines until we write our own narrative.”
Rashid shared three stories that exemplified how to write a narrative in a positive manner. He began with a personal anecdote of a time he and a friend were bullied in school because of their beliefs and ethnicities. He responded with violence against the bully, and was given an important lesson by his father.
“My father told me that I must write the narrative that wins the hearts,” Rashid said. “He said that people fear what they don’t understand… and we can make them understand, but not with our fists.”
At the time, Rashid did not fully understand the extent of this piece of advice. It was not until he heard the stories of Asia Bibi and Muzaffar Ahmad that he realized the profoundness of his father’s words.
Asia Bibi is a Christian woman currently on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad. Recanting and converting to Islam could release her released from prison and return her to regular life. Instead, she has chosen to stand her ground and serve as a symbol of an influential narrative.
Muzaffar Ahmad was a teenage boy who prevented a Taliban suicide bomber from detonating his device inside an Ahmadi Muslim mosque in 2010. By stopping the bomber, he saved countless lives. This was the first account of a suicide bomber being stopped and caught alive in Pakistan. Ahmad wrote the right narrative for himself by being courageous and turning the man over to authorities.
Rashid shared these stories as examples of how to write the narrative that wins the hearts. Writing such a narrative requires one to respond with passion as the bigger person. It requires one to stay strong and resist the temptations of personal gratification.
“It is easy to look at these individuals and be inspired by them,” Rashid said. “It takes a courageous person to recognize that their influence in their circle of friends, of co-workers, can be just as powerful.”
Rashid challenged his audience members to tell their own story and write their narrative to win the hearts. His book, which is helping to rewrite the narrative of Islam that has been implemented by terrorist organizations into a truthful representation of the religion, advocates for peace and communication. Like his book, his discussion invited his audience to be open-minded and accepting and to make the right choice when writing a narrative.