Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Virtue Ethics: An Ethical Development Program for High School Youth

A Path of Forgiveness

This is the story of Azim Khamisa. His decision to forgive deeds many would consider unforgiveable has inspired and transformed people all over the world.

Azim, an international investment banker, lived in San Diego, with his two children, a son, Tariq, and a daughter, Tasreen.

One night in 1995, Azim's world collided with that of a 14-year-old boy named Tony. The impact changed their lives, and many other lives, forever.

Tony, too, lived in San Diego. He had lived with his grandfather, Ples Felix, since 1990 when Tony's mother sent him from their home in Los Angeles. She had come to this decision after Tony witnessed the murder of his cousin and best friend. She wanted Tony to be away from the gangs and violence that were rampant in their neighborhood. With her father, Ples, she decided that Tony would be safer in San Diego. Through the years, Ples tried to assure Tony's future by demanding that he study hard and stay away from the much older boys to whom Tony was drawn. Tony became more and more angry, resenting his strict grandfather and all the rules he imposed.

Finally one evening after he and his grandfather argued, Tony ran away, taking Ples' rifle. He went to find his older friends who belonged to a gang, the Black Mob.

That was the night the lives of Tony and his grandfather tragically crashed into the lives of Azim Khamisa and his son Tariq.

Tariq was a bright, popular student, 20 years old. He had a job delivering pizzas to help pay for his education. That evening, Tariq was delivering pizzas when he encountered the Black Mob. The gang demanded that he give them pizza without paying for it, but he refused. So they told Tony to "bust him." Tony pointed the rifle and pulled the trigger, instantly killing Tariq.

When Azim learned of the death of his beloved son, he was overwhelmed with grief.

As a devout Sufi Muslim, he turned to his faith for prayer, solace, and inspiration. Day by day, he came to know he must walk the path of forgiveness and compassion. He realized that Tony—the youngest person to be tried as an adult in California, and now sentenced to 25 years in prison—was as much a victim of society's violence as Tariq. Azim began to believe "You do forgiveness for yourself, because it moves you on; the fact that it can also heal the perpetrator is icing on the cake."

Azim felt that in order for him to move on, he needed to take some kind of action that would honor Tariq's spirit and give him a sense of purpose. He started the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, engaging people of all ages in education, mentorship, and community service programs with one mission: to stop children from killing children. Through its projects, the foundation works to transform violence prone, at-risk youth into nonviolent, achieving individuals and create safe, productive schools.

A month after establishing the foundation, Azim invited Tony's grandfather Ples to join him. Since November 1995—only 10 months after Tariq's death—Azim and Ples have considered themselves to be brothers, bringing their story and message of forgiveness and nonviolence to people all over the world.

Five years after the murder, Azim met Tony in prison. He told a remorseful Tony that he forgave him, and offered him a job with the Tariq Khamisa Foundation when he was released from prison. Later, Azim wrote to the governor of California, asking that Tony's sentence be commuted.

It is difficult to imagine how Azim could transcend the heartbreak of his son's murder, for there are some events in life that are too major to get "over." We just get through them. Azim got through the loss of Tariq by becoming a powerful activist, teaching forgiveness and peace in order to literally change lives and society as a whole. Azim discovered that forgiveness is a path we walk, not an act that we do once and we are finished. Forgiveness doesn't erase pain. It provides a path to transform that pain into something life affirming.

About the Author

Shelley Jackson Denham

Shelley Jackson Denham (1950–2013), a member of First UU Church of Cincinnati and Heritage UU Church in Cincinnati was the author of numerous hymns and songs, including five which appear in the UUA’s Singing the Living Tradition hymn book.

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