By Wajahat Ali
In 7th-century Arabia, the storyteller was valued more than the swordsman. The audience sat on the floor surrounding the gifted orator as he captivated the eager listeners with beautiful poetry narrating their history. In the 21st century, the art form may have evolved to include motion pictures, TV shows, theater productions, novels, and standup comedy, but they all serve the same function: storytelling.
Ideas and principles are most effectively communicated and transmitted when they are couched in a narrative. Stories, whether they concern the etiquette and biography of prophets or the trials and tribulations of America’s founding fathers, inform and influence a cultural citizenry of its values and identity.
Stories of the Prophet Muhammad most effectively communicate the Quran’s eloquent exhortation to tolerate and embrace diversity: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise [each other])” (49:13). The Prophet’s cordial diplomacy and communication with the Christian, Abyssinian King yielded one of the first alliances of the young Muslim community. Furthermore, the Prophet displayed unconditional love for his diverse companions, who comprised the gamut of Arab society including former slaves, orphans, widows, wealthy dignitaries, and non-Arabs.
Similarly, the story of a biracial man with an Arabic name and a Kenyan father elected to the highest office in the land reminds the world that indeed America can live up to its cherished principles of freedom and racial equality, and her citizens are capable of reflecting a magnanimous and egalitarian spirit bereft of prejudice.