When Qasim reached out to me, wondering if I would review his e-manuscript for Talk to Me: Changing the Narrative on Race, Religion & Education, I was delighted to say the least. I do not know Qasim personally but we have had some online interactions and I respect his work.
My initial thoughts on the book post introduction were that it reads almost like a memoir. I enjoyed the first part of the introduction, however I felt the latter part was somewhat lacklustre. Qasim recalls a [childhood] story of being told by Muhaimin (an older boy in his community) never to use the "H-word" (hate), even on "mosquito bites". This, coupled with some cliché Dr King quotes heard many times over, created an element of predictability, adding little value to the overall text. I felt that using the "H-word" in relation to peoples, religions or belief systems was unnecessary, although perfectly acceptable as description of feeling.
Nonetheless, I persisted in reading further and I am very pleased that I did! 'Talk To Me' isn't just about Qasim's life, it is a collection of stories from other individuals who have encountered racism, prejudice, sexism, and domestic violence, and explores how these individuals have conquered these hurdles through meaningful discussion and open dialogue. It is not an academic book, which I preferred, as it made the journey through these stories more relatable than a dry academic text exploring the same themes would have done. The contributing authors are descriptive, informative and colorful, reading more like a conversation at times.
What I most enjoyed about 'Talk to Me' is that it contains a narrative relevant to everyone. Some stories made me gasp, laugh and (although I hate to admit it) even cry! The story of Robert Salaam, a marine and convert to Islam is dear to my heart. My husband, also in the US Army, has been serving for 6 years now and he too is a Muslim convert. Both men are products of similar circumstance and I want to say Robert, that you are not alone in your experiences.
There are other stories, which were equally gripping. The heartfelt story of the NICU nurse, Nusrat Chaudhry, who has been a mother to thousands of babies in her ward, yet remains motherless. The empowering struggle of Rabia Chaudry to leave a violent marriage, raise her child and still become a successful lawyer [was inspirational]. Then the story of an inter-racial Christian couple, Pastor Leo Cunningham and his wife, who were faced with prejudices from a small congregation, speaks volumes about racial divides in present day America.
'Talk to Me' assists and succeeds in building bridges across the divides of culture, race, power and much more. It certainly provides an insight into the way others live in society, victims we wouldn't normally see struggle or their stories untold on the six o'clock news, but equally important.
There are many themes, which are intertwined throughout the book. Nonetheless the messages of compassion, humanity and interfaith dialogue are ultimately the most important aspects of this work. It simply urges people to talk to one another, learn from one another, and celebrate our rich diversity. These are values, which can easily be incorporated into our daily lives. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world". We tend to fear the unknown but that fear is easily overcome when one takes the time to 'Talk to Me.'