[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”52″ bg_color=”#dd9933″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]H[/mks_dropcap]ave you ever heard someone say something so ignorant and prejudiced and blatantly wrong that you question whether freedom of speech should even apply to someone with such a narrow mind? Whether it is a racist comment you hear at school, or coverage of an international issue on a biased news channel, ignorance and prejudice plague the world we live in.  

 A series of police brutality cases against African-Americans in the United States left the world shaken and brought people to the streets in protest. At its core,  the real issue was race. Consider the fact that in Ferguson, Missouri, where 18-year-old African American Michael Brown was killed by a police officer, 94% of the police force is white while 63% of the population is black. Or the fact that another African-American, Eric Garner’s death was documented on camera, and the officer who killed him was not indicted. The fact that these are only some of the many instances in which black victims have been deprived by a systematically racist criminal justice system that lets their killers walk freely, is a tragedy on its own. These events made us all realize how toxic racism really is, even today. [mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”20″ bg_color=”#dd9933″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]It is also important to realize that ignorance is not just an external threat that we need to defeat; it is, whether you admit it or not, ingrained inside us all.[/mks_pullquote]

Racism and prejudice affect all of us. Hearing stories of injustice like these often makes our blood boil, but it is not simply an external evil. How many times have you heard racist or hateful comments from people in your own community, from your own family even? Snide comments, suspicious glances, and silent judgments – we see it everywhere, even in our own Muslim community. For example, with the conflict between Palestine and Israel, some Muslims respond by utter hatred towards all Jewish people – which is obviously ridiculous, as Islam teaches nothing but acceptance and tolerance, and love for all regardless of race or religion. Yet we are offended when people believe that terrorist organizations like ISIS represent Islam. We cannot expect others to treat us fairly if we are guilty of the same prejudice towards others.

 Allah (SWT) tells us: “O you who believe!  Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor…” (Surah Nisa 4:135). It is our duty to stand up against injustice and to combat ignorance.

It is also important to realize that ignorance is not just an external threat that we need to defeat; it is, whether you admit it or not, ingrained inside us all. From a very young age, we are brought up with stereotypes and biases, and we unwittingly internalize them. Without even meaning to, we judge people on the street, people we meet, people on television. Furthermore, we’re privileged to live in a country where we face few problems, and so we exist within our utopian bubble, turning a blind eye to problems around the world, truly embodying the term “ignorance is bliss.”

 In order to rid our community of this plague of ignorance, we must start with ourselves. There are two easy steps to becoming a more aware and educated person: open your eyes and open your mind.

 Open your eyes to issues within your own community, and to the problems that people around the world are facing.  Keep up with current events – and this doesn’t have to mean picking up a newspaper. Through the power of the Internet, keeping up-to-date and globally connected has never been easier. Read a blog or watch a YouTube news clip. Pick a well-known, unbiased news channel and follow it on Facebook or Twitter. Use your resources, such as social media, to make a real difference in the world. Take what you know and share it with others in a meaningful way.

 The second step is to open your mind to other people’s perspectives. The only way you’re going to overcome your own biases is by being open-minded, by admitting that you may be wrong, and by accommodating opinions different than your own.

 So you have the choice to do one of three things: you can continue living in your rose-coloured bubble and pretend that there is nothing wrong with the world, or you can mope and complain about injustice and give up hope in humanity, or you can actively bring change.

 We are the youth, the change-makers of the world. For decades and centuries, we have led rebellions, we have won revolutions, and we have inspired change in the masses! We see the world with fresh eyes wide open, and we refuse to sit still for the injustices in society that passing generations turned a blind eye to. Open your eyes and open your mind. Let’s do something about it.