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Musings: Our Role in Peacemaking As Lives Are Being Lost

We get assaulted daily, perhaps not by bullets and bombs but rather the news media 7/24 showing us the dark trends at play today. In the midst of all this violence observed by eyes wanting peace, how do we as different faiths, nations and religions live in peace and understanding?

It is important to say that if you are a Christian or a Jew, or come from that heritage, there are people of these faiths and of mine, Islam, who are looking straight past the shared place of love, truth, light and peace, and accusing each other of being in the heart of darkness.

Any faith can be perverted into such hatred. Sacred writings can be found and twisted to justify all manner of evil. And how it must break the hearts of every Great Spirit who has come to earth to teach us love, truth, light and peace. How it hurts every living being who has heard and remembered the words of those great teachers, all who do their best to live now by the wise and difficult teachings that are humanity’s only hope of ending the terrible suffering that hate causes in the world.

Lives are being lost as we speak. Families dread the message that will tell them the death tolls now include the names of those they love. Behind the headlines of war there is always the agony of real people, experiencing unspeakable pain, one heart at a time.

I speak to you today from one heart that knows such pain. I have a story to tell you that may answer the questions – How do we end the hatred among peoples, how do we live with each other in love, truth, light and peace? I did not lose my son in a terrorist attack, or in the deserts of Afghanistan or Iraq, or in the Gaza strip, but in the ongoing, endless war on the streets of our country.

The call that told me he had been killed emptied me of joy, and filled me with despair. Any vision of a fulfilling life was forever destroyed.

Now, I can tell you that I have found the road back to joy and fulfillment, to an inner strength that I never knew I possessed before, and to a life devoted to ending violence. What was that path that brought me here? I think it is a path nations and religions can use to find peace. I’ve described the loss of my child as having a nuclear bomb go off in my heart –  parents simply aren’t designed to withstand the murder of a child. Everything stopped for me. My intense work as an international investment banker, my pleasant social life, my certainty that I was taking good care of my family, protecting them – all my certainties ended with Tariq’s life.

People around me were expecting my anger to focus on Tariq’s killer. But that made no sense to me. An eye for an eye? The wise Hindu, Gandhi, reminded us that an “eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind.”

When my mind could not find its way through all this, I turned to my faith and to the wise teachers it offered me. I would go to them for wisdom and strength. And it was there, waiting for me.

My spiritual teachers reminded me that mourning could fill the first 40 days of Tariq’s journey in the next world, but that after that – after we said the prayers that closed the 40 days – excessive grieving would impede his soul’s journey. I must turn my grief into good deeds for the living, deeds that would fuel his soul’s journey, not hinder it. I MUST BECOME A SPIRITUAL ACTIVIST. He reminded me that the quality of the rest of my life depended totally on my reaction to Tariq’s murder, and for a life to have quality, it must have purpose.

My faith had given me a cause, a reason for living. I would turn my grief into the good deed of stopping other children from killing each other. I would turn my rage into bringing greater peace to this country I so love. I would help Tariq’s soul on its journey. And I would help my country protect all its children. I would become the foe, not of my son’s killer, but of the forces that put a young boy on a dark street, holding a handgun. Focusing on the killer does not take much wisdom – focusing on the forces that put a young boy on a dark street is the REAL challenge!

Muslims do a form of charity called sadaqa – which may sound familiar to those of you who follow the Torah’s injunction to do tzedakah. Muslims give of their time and of their incomes, as one of the pillars of the faith. I had volunteered and contributed, mostly to causes that benefited people in other countries. Now I would focus on a cause in my own country, starting in my city of San Diego.

Our goal is to create leaders who can resolve conflict with out violence and we must begin with our children.

My personal energy began to return to me as I talked with people in the community about taking part in this enormous task. I decided to start the Tariq Khamisa Foundation ( as the framework for the work I would do in my son’s name – ending youth violence.

In a society where twelve young people die violently every day, where 237 kids are arrested – every day – for violent crimes-the kids in our program pledge themselves to non-violence. Violent incidents decrease at their schools. Fewer kids join gangs. I am truly happy to share with you today: Our program works.

And we hope to see it replicated all over the nation and the world, making kids’ lives safe, bringing them hope for long, productive, peaceful lives. Our goal is to create leaders who can resolve conflict with out violence and we must begin with our children.

For years people have asked me how I took the course of forgiveness and peacemaking, rather than the expected rage and revenge. Since September 11th, non-Muslims are even more curious about the teachings of my faith. After all, our news is full of militant Islam, of Muslim terrorists killing innocents, and quoting the Koran as their guide. But true Muslims recognize the course I have taken.

I think you recognize the teachings that guided me – all faiths teach forgiveness, compassion, and taking care of each other. All faiths admonish us not to kill. Islam speaks respectfully of the people of the book, all those who follow the teachings of Muhammad and the prophets who preceded him in bringing God’s message to the world. The Qur’an tells us that all the people of the book worship the same God.

Our prophet, our messenger, brought us the teaching that all human beings were formed into nations and tribes “so that we may know one another, not to conquer, subjugate, revile or slaughter, but to reach out toward others with intelligence and understanding.”

The Qur’an tells us that whosoever kills one innocent human being, “it shall be as if he has killed all humankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he has saved the life of all humankind.”

The Qur’an tells us that Islam cannot be spread by the sword, that the faith cannot be forced on others.

I choose to work for change as an American and as a Muslim, making my stand in this, the twenty-first century. For whatever it is worth to you and to our country, as we deal with our losses and the threats against us, I offer my own experience of grief transformed into compassionate action.

Every faith, every moral teacher has taught us the same basic truths. It will take all our courage to act on those truths, but there is no surer way to real victory.

And what will victory look like? My vision has been a world in which our children do not kill each other. Now, for all of us – more so than ever before – AS INDIVIDUALS AND AS A NATION the vision must be a world in which we indeed reach out to each other with intelligence and understanding, ending the suffering that breeds violence, and creating a world at peace.

It is possible.

Many Blessings,

Azim N. Khamisa

Azim Khamisa

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