The World's Greatest Problem
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Politics and Activism

The World's Greatest Problem

Lessons from a 5th Grade Cafeteria.

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The World's Greatest Problem
Amazon AWS

One of the greatest problems the world faces today is miscommunication.

I was in fifth grade when, shuffling my way through the cafeteria, I was overcome with that indescribable feeling that someone was watching me. I could feel their eyes peering directly through me from behind. As I turned, my other senses immediately became aware of the hushed whispers originating from the same table housing Mr. Creepy Eyes. They were speaking of a rumor that would start and spread from that day forward and for weeks thereon, that because I was a Muslim, I did not believe in God.

Being the mature fifth grader I was, the most reasonable conclusion I came to was that they were like the kids Taylor Swift sang about. And like the Swizzle, I too hoped they would live the rest of their lives as lying, pathetic, lonely brats, preferably housed in a shack in a forest detached as much as possible from the outside world. It was a weak insult too. Islam is a monotheistic religion. There are only four major monotheistic religions practiced on this tiny piece of rock floating in the oblivion that is our universe. How do you get that confused?


Next to Islam, my family has played a large role in shaping my identity and has further allowed me to grow a deep admiration for the place in which my parents and their parents were raised: Pakistan. My mother and father unfailingly made time for us to go back and visit. I remember as a child, one of the greatest attractions in this beautiful country was the McDonald’s about 20 minutes away from our home, where the chicken sandwiches were made with masala and the McFlurry options didn’t end at Oreo and M&M. That’s right: Kit Kat McFlurries.


So how was it that my religion, ethnicity, and identity as a person, all characteristics very beautifully interwoven into my life, could be so easily misconstrued? Unbeknownst to me at the time, the answer to my question lay within the question itself.

How easy is it to keep up with your friends yet avoid contact with the hundreds of other students, essentially ghosts, we walk by everyday on our way to class? How easy is it to pretend that the greatest events currently unfolding within our lifetimes are restricted to the fate of the next basketball game or the grade on our paper, rather than the civil and social rights movements sweeping the nation and this world? Or rather than the incessant abuses racial, ethnic, and religious minorities are facing; rather than the reshaping of the government as it stands with each president, activist, media mogul, and news network, all playing a role in redirecting the definition of and discourse on what it means to be an American? It is with ease I could avoid my classmate and reduce him to a stereotype: the ignorant kid from fifth period history who was born stupid. It is with ease I could say he had no hope left for him. It is with ease I could cut myself off from any communication with my classmates and the world outside of which I immediately lived in and instead shut myself off.

But it is with effort I could have reached out to him and said, “Hey, I know you think I don’t believe in God, but I actually do. Muslims generally do. And even if I didn’t, would it be that bad?”

I’ve learned. The tension I felt in the cafeteria that day was one rooted in a fear so insubstantial it lacked a real foundation; pervasive yet readily solvable; seemingly threatening yet paired with one of the simplest solutions: to have an open mind and talk.

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