Join Ghanim Khalil in interfaith repair.
Ghanim is a British born Muslim of Pakistani descent, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and New York Army National Guard, a peace activist, a lover of the natural world, and a student of world history and religion. He served as an Islamic lay reader in the Marine Corps, but during the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq he became outspoken against the war. Since then Ghanim has been an anti-war and anti-Islamophobia activist, and an interfaith leader in his community. Today, he works as a Park Ranger.
Ghanim is a co-founder of the Islamic Civic Association of Staten Island, and a member of Peace Action Staten Island, Peace Action New York, and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Ghanim joined the Veteran Reparations Project in 2017 because repair and reconciliation have always been part of the way he has lived his religion. “Humans are commanded by the Qur’an to enjoin good and prevent or oppose evil,” he says. “The establishment of peace through justice and the high regard conflict resolution is given in Islam motivates me to be active in my community and remain aware of the struggles people face in society.”
Islamophobia has been a top priority for Ghanim, since bigotry against Muslims and Islam has done so much to fuel the Global War on Terror. His interfaith work is intended to defuse that hatred by simply bringing communities together and sharing information about Islam. He has found that the simple act of communicating goes a long way. “Interfaith work has allowed me to see that people are very rational on all sides,” he says, “and that effective communication can produce mutual respect and admiration.”
Recently, more and more Muslims have been the victims of hate crimes in the US, and the work that Ghanim does to address the root of this problem, to replace hate with understanding, is as urgent as it was in the days immediately after 9/11. However, Ghanim’s approach to facilitating communication and the exchange of ideas between faith communities is relevant at a broader level too. In an atmosphere in which our country is more ideologically polarized than ever; in which our social movements are fragmented according to particular interests, demographics, or identities; and in which each group has its own partisan news source and its own selective facts; Ghanim’s interfaith work demonstrates the urgency of reconciliatory discourse.
It was Ghanim’s understanding of history and international relations, as much as his religious beliefs, that lead him to oppose the war in Iraq. Because of the fraudulent intelligence given to justify the invasion, he saw the war and occupation in the context of a long history of colonial excursions into the Middle East, first by European powers and now by the United States, to gain access to the natural resources of the region. Of course, “the war violated the principles and beliefs of every major faith group as well as international laws based on moral principles,” he notes. But it was still difficult for Ghanim to explain his opposition to the war to his fellow soldiers. “Most people were willing to listen even if they disagreed,” he notes, “but some resorted to lowest form of discourse by expressing hatred of all Muslims and an ignorant understanding of anti-war arguments and stances.”
Communication must be combined with information, analysis, and respectful dialogue; but often information and analysis clash with beloved mythologies—in Ghanim’s case a national mythology about the benevolence of US foreign policy. In this sense, discussing politics is not altogether different from leading interfaith discussions, in which two communities each come to the conversation with different belief systems.
For Ghanim the teachings of Islam provide a model for inter-group discourse, by advocating for peaceful conflict resolution through positive and empathetic discourse. Ghanim cites the following passage from the Qur’an: “argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance” (16:125). “This is taken as the foundation for positive and truthful discourse.” He adds that,
[t]his type of peaceful discourse includes the prevention of misunderstandings between people and requires listening to understand the other as well as engaging in fruitful exchanges. One of the biggest challenges to peaceful resolutions of conflict today are the narratives of polarization which employ hostility, generalizations, and labels as means to demonize the opposition instead of intelligently engaging their arguments. Islam opposes this and advocates sincere and productive dialogue.
Ghanim’s efforts at interfaith repair highlight the transformative nature of grassroots reparations. We are not looking to win arguments or defeat our political opponents. As stated on our “Why grassroots reparations?” page, we believe that reparative and reconciliatory discourse can overcome ideological divisions without diluting our message of truth and justice:
Instead of asserting our ideological vision of the world, we make community and movement building the goal of every conversation, publication, or debate. In practice, what that means is that we try to listen and be open minded to new ideas, and we think strategically and ethically about how we try to persuade others to accept our ideas. We avoid sectarian polemics and provide the most complete and most responsible information possible. We grow by building knowledge communities united around the ethics of repair and solidarity.
In other words, we are seeking an epistemic communion with those who think differently than we do. We hope you’ll join us.
You can contact Ghanim here.
Publications by Ghanim
“Ghanim Khalil’s, Army Reserve Speech at the Anti-War Rally in New York.” Refusing to Kill is not Crime February 15th, 2003
“The True Nature of Anti-Americanism in the Muslim World.” Winds of Change in the Middle East? [blog] October 12th, 2005.
“When Muslims Become Violent.” Islamoview September 14, 2012.
“The Tyranny of Anti-Islam Internet Memes.” Muslims4Liberty December 27, 2015.
“Can We Talk? A Dialectic on Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism.” Talk given at the Unitarian Church of Staten Island on March 22nd, 2015.
“The Complexity of Understanding Daesh (ISIS).” Newsletter of Peace Action Staten Island January 2016.
“My Muslim Journey.” Youtube, April 4th, 2016