In this thought-provoking talk, Kiana proposes that we move away from a narrow, monolithic, and polarizing view of Islam—one that subscribes to what she calls a “single-story mindset”—and towards a more pluralistic view of the faith, and a “multi-story mindset.”
Kiana begins her talk asking the audience to imagine a Muslim woman, and the image that first comes to mind is that of a woman in a hijab. “Show a people as one thing,” Kiana says, quoting Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.” She goes on to explain, “For a long time, when I thought of a Muslim woman, I also pictured this image before I pictured myself. Before I pictured my mother, my grandmother. If, in our minds, this becomes a Muslim woman, then who am I?”
Using as examples the different interpretations of jihad and the status of women in Islam, Kiana shows the interplay of culture and politics and how these have shaped the diverse set of beliefs and practices within Islam. She sweeps across history, exploring the many notions of jihad, beginning with the Prophet Muhammad’s time. She uses Harvard Professor Diane Moore’s cultural studies lens to emphasize “that religion doesn’t exist separate from the human experience, isolated from time and space,” and also cites the work of Harvard Professor Ali Asani, with whom she interned as a research assistant in the summer of 2017.
Kiana moves onto reflect on why viewing Islam—or any religion—from a multi-story mindset matters; she states that such a mindset could well “be the difference between peace and war.” She highlights, “When we seek to define a religion exclusively as one thing, we ignore and diminish the experiences, the multitude of stories, of truths that are excluded.” However, as she later posits, “When we accept the multi-story mindset we restore the humanity of the ignored, the devalued, and the excluded. And we also reclaim our own humanity.”
Kiana delivered her first TEDx Talk, entitled “The Risk of a Dying Cosmopolitan Ethic” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_mmKodFZg4), in 2016. Kiana lives in Calgary, Alberta, and graduated in May 2018 from Deerfield Academy, a boarding school in Deerfield, Massachusetts. She delivered the Commencement Student Address (watch it, starting at 25:30, at https://deerfield.edu/alumni/commencement-livestream/ or read it at https://deerfield.edu/fp/commencement-student-address-2018-kiana-rawji/10256432/) and won the Deerfield Cup, one of two prestigious Commencement prizes that the school awards each year. In the fall of 2019, she will be joining the Harvard College Class of 2022.