by Jimmy Courteau
Amer Ahmed’s visit to Chadwick on April 19 provided students with a unique perspective of Islam contrary to the prejudice and bigotry the world is too often exposed to by blaming Muslims for depriving women of rights, committing violence against Westerners and Jews, and conducting terrorism against the United States.
But rather than explain where and how the prejudice and the bigotry started and is perpetuated, Amer Ahmed espouses a simple greeting of peace.
Why is it important that we, as students, are exposed to a person who is dedicating his life to the respect and dignity of all people? Is it simply because we are students and the exposure of knowledge is the paramount goal, or is it because we, as human beings, want or need to gain a perspective, an deeper insight, into our own prejudice and bigotry? Which is more important; the knowledge of Islam and what is a Muslim or the questioning our ourselves? Who am I?
Ahmed told us, as human beings, that it is far better to respect others because we have questioned ourselves rather than merely respect others because we have been told to do so, as students.
Ahmed suggested that life is a path toward insight of how we can be better at understanding why we are the way we are. This is the life that Ahmed has chosen for himself.
When Ahmed spoke of “breaking down the barriers,” the simple mental image is that of barriers separate and exterior. Barriers certainly exist out in the world. But as Ahmed spoke about barriers, it slowly developed the idea that these barriers, or the barrier, is not out there somewhere, but rather right here on the Chadwick campus. It is in you.
Ahmed said that when we substitute myth for fact we create our own reality, our own barrier, blocking us from seeing. How many times have we heard someone say, “That may be your reality, but it’s not mine.”
Ahmed’s reality is that Allah, God, is for all people. His life’s work is built on Allah’s, God’s, five pillars of faith; and by following the five pillars, Amer Ahmed is allowed to see the dignity of all people.
During Ahmed’s talk he never once asked us to look inward or question our own personal beliefs. But because of who he is, what he has become, and what he is becoming, his presence at Chadwick and his speaking to us about the myths and the barriers, floated stuff to the surface that otherwise would sink us to negatively view others in a false reality.
While listening to Ahmed one got the feeling that he enjoyed showing us that reality is peace not conflict. That reality is easily explained and not complicated or confusing.
Ahmed spoke about Muslim belief, Muslim faith, Muslim life, and Muslim family. Perhaps it is in this last word “family” that we can all find common ground with Amer Ahmed. The “Family of Man” might be an alternative title for Amer Ahmed’s presentation, “Islam: Beyond the Myths, Breaking Down the Barriers”; as family is the starting point for all of us even if it’s a Muslim family like Amer Ahmed’s in Middle America: Springfield, Ohio. Yes, a Muslim family in Ohio. Think about that. Somewhere in Ohio, U.S.A., a family is following the teachings of a prophet named Mohammed, praying five times every day to Allah, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, and saving money for a pilgrimage to Mecca to be with thousands of other Muslims in a small area.
Ahmed has given us a view into his life as a Muslim, an educator, a speaker, and a person whose work is his life. He’s not Amer Ahmed from 9 to 5. He’s Amer Ahmed 24/7. Maybe this last aspect, life’s work as one’s life, is the reason he came to Chadwick.
Amer Ahmed is very much like Margaret Chadwick: another person whose life’s work was her life.
Mrs. Chadwick knew that learning involves the whole student—not just the mind —and that we must be open to new experiences and differing viewpoints. Ahmed spoke of the Five Pillars of the Faith. Chadwick School has followed Mrs. Chadwick’s inspiration by identifying five core values: honesty, respect, responsibility, fairness, and compassion. It’s not difficult to see that as students there are many roads to take to reach one’s goals, but only a few pillars or values that will make us better people.