I was recently invited to participate in a Human Library project as part of University Of Victoria’s 5 days of action, whose aim is to “encourage every member of the UVic community to take concrete steps toward ending discrimination, harassment, and sexualized violence on our campus’.
This invitation got me thinking about the basics-what is a library? I recalled an early childhood memory of being inside a library, exploring all the treasures that lay inside with a thirst to learn. You see, back then, a library was predominantly a place to engage in serious learning. Fun was secondary. How wonderful that the two have come together so nicely in todays’ modern library!
The human library promises to be one of these libraries that brings together fun and learning in the most unique way. My imagination ran away with me as I thought about this. If a library is full of books that are stacked neatly on shelves, then a human library, in the literal sense would be shelves full of people. A library of humans! How big would this library be? Ideally, if it was comprehensive, it would have 7.7 Billion human books in it, each with their own story to tell.
The following quote, from Ali ibn Abu Talib, the Fourth Caliph of Islam, and the first Imam of the Shia Muslims, brings together this idea of a human library most beautifully:
“Should knowledge be incorporated in human form then humility would be at its head; absence of jealousy would be its eye; understanding would be its ear; truth its tongue; search and preservation of truth its memory; purity of motives its heart; recognition and knowledge of [human] affairs and [attributes of] things its reasoning…” (Al Kulayni, Ibn Ya’qub Ibn Ishaq. Al-Kafi. Vol 1: A-Usul, Part One. (1978) Tehran: World Organization for Islamic Services, pp. 122-123).
Spiritually speaking, this human library would constitute all of humanity, with all its diverse peoples, abilities, indigeneity, cultures, values, religions, perspectives, personalities, sexual orientation, and so on. What a beautiful picture Ali Ibn Talib paints of the powerful story that the human library would tell about mankind in all its diverse ways of being. Human books at UVic will provide a small sampling of this story of humanity.
However, in order to hear the story, one has to engage with the books in the library. When walking into a library full of books, one can merely walk around and browse through the books, or one can get curious and pick one up from the shelf. Will curiosity get the better of me? Will I make the commitment to read the book? These questions apply just as equally when thinking of human beings-how often do we walk past each other without interacting meaningfully? A friend challenged me with yet another question. “How are books mirrors of ourselves, in that we see ourselves, and our stories in the stories that are told? How are books windows into new experiences?” As I think about the story I will tell, one that brings a different spin to living in Canada as a Muslim woman (have I got you curious?), another question comes to mind-what does it mean to judge a book by its cover, or in this case, it’s jacket?
UVic’s 5 days of action is a sincere attempt to live the values of pluralism, and to re-establish the university’s commitment to these values. I am excited to contribute in a small way to this important project, and grateful for the opportunity to tell my story in such a fun and engaging way.
Karima Ramji is an active community member, having served most recently as Chair of Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s World Partnership Walk in Victoria. Certified as an Advanced Cultural Intelligence Facilitator, Karima tries to practice inclusion and pluralism in all she does, including her professional life as Manager of International Programs at University of Victoria’s Co-operative Education Program and Career Services.
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* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonost on Saturday, October 19th 2019