Azim Khamisa: A Life Transformed by the Courage to Forgive

On January 21, 1995 Tariq Khamisa, 20 years old, was killed with one shot by 14-year-old newly-minted gang member Tony Hicks. Tariq Khamisa arrived at an address to deliver a pizza. The young men planned to take the pizza without paying. Tariq refused to give them the pizza. He returned to his car. Hicks and fellow gang members followed Tariq, Hicks was told to fire his weapon. He did.

A few hours later, Azim Khamisa did not believe the police who called and told him his son had been murdered. He called Jennifer, Tariq’s then fiancée, only to receive confirmation through her sobbing that Tariq had been killed. Experiencing excruciating pain, Azim Khamisa felt life being drained from his body. But what happened next is a powerful example of spiritual healing: Khamisa felt himself embraced in the arms of God.  In this moment, Khamisa resolved to forgive Tony.

Finding the courage to forgive the young man that killed his son was a spiritual decision. Azim Khamisa resolved to view Tony and his son both as victims. “There were victims at both ends of the gun” he stated. He credits his ability to forgive to a higher power; he believes there is not a problem that the spirit and soul cannot solve—“people who are spiritually resilient can survive and go on.” Forgiveness involves the mind, heart, and soul. “Intellectually you cannot make the decision to forgive, but through courage and faith you can,” Khamisa declares that when making a decision an individual should first decide whether or not it is logical, then look into the heart and ask if this is a good decision or a bad one. Through evaluation of his mind, heart, and soul Khamisa found forgiveness and ultimately found peace.

Through the practice of meditation Khamisa also discovered healing power. Meditating helped prepare his heart to forgive Tony. Khamisa began meditating many years before the death of his son, discovering the practice after a business transaction took advantage of him in a very unethical way. Through meditation, Khamisa discovered peace and freedom. After four months of deep meditation Khamisa concluded that “sustained goodwill creates friendship, sustained friendship creates trust, sustained trust creates empathy, sustained empathy creates compassion, and sustained compassion creates peace.” Ultimately, this conclusion led Khamisa on a journey of developing a relationship with Tony and his grandfather Ples Felix. Coincidentally, Ples Felix also meditates. Felix learned to meditate from a Buddhist monk in Southeast Asia.

Khamisa endured a long journey of self-discovery which led to the founding of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation. The mission of TKF is to warn young adults about the dangers of gangs and to express the importance of nonviolence. Great leadership begins with courage. Khamisa, like graduates of the Multicultural Leadership Program, want to make a difference in the world. But to make a difference, leaders must have the courage to build genuine relationships. Developing strong connections with a variety of individuals enables a leader to create a larger impact on society. For example, Khamisa developed a relationship with Felix, who joined him on his mission to decrease violence in youths. Together they have talked to over a million youth. When talking to youth they bring the perspectives of two men, both who lost a child to gang violence. Azim’s son died and Felix’s grandson is spending his life in prison. Through their active leadership both have found peace.

Azim Khamisa is the keynote speaker at the 4th annual MCLP graduation celebration on Saturday evening, April 13, 2013 at the Brown Ballroom in the ISU Student Center. 

Azim Khamisa is currently working on “From Fulfillment to Peace” which will complete his trilogy of books including the award winning “From Murder to Forgiveness” and “From Forgiveness to Fulfillment”. He’s also written “Azim’s Bardo—A Father’s Journey from Murder to Forgiveness.” and co-written “The Secrets of the Bulletproof Spirit: How to Bounce Back from Life’s Hardest Hits” with Jillian Quinn.