(pictured above: Imam Khalid Griggs on the campus of Wake Forest University.)
Khalid Griggs, imam of the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem and an assistant chaplain at Wake Forest University, toured the United Kingdom from Nov. 18–22, addressing audiences in six cities and at five universities.
“What was reaffirmed to me is that young people are young people, all over the world,” he said. The same challenges that students in this country face – particularly Muslim students – are the same challenges that they face over there.”
The tour was underwritten by Like Media, a Birmingham, England-based company that hosts Muslim speakers from around the world to lecture on a variety of subjects. Dubbed “Reflections,” Griggs’ tour included stops at Bristol, Nottingham Trent and Oxford universities.
“I tried to offer a particular challenge to the students at Oxford University because they are not unaware of the prestige that comes along with them graduating from the university,” he said. “…I thought it was a very good opportunity to challenge these young folks to not be self-centered in what they do upon returning to whatever countries that they came from, or if they remain in the UK. They do have a special duty and responsibility, just based on the awareness that they have of what’s going on around them.”
Chaplain Tim Auman said the WFU Chaplain’s Office is thrilled to have one of its own making his voice heard on the international stage.
“Obviously, we are proud of Khalid. He is a fantastic ambassador of our office, for the university and for Muslim life here in Winston-Salem,” said Auman, who has served Wake Forest since 2001. “I think he is a logical spokesperson to help the folks that he had the privilege of speaking to there.”
Griggs, who has addressed audiences in at least seven different countries, said the trip afforded him a glimpse of the country that he hadn’t been privy to before.
“I’ve been to the United Kingdom about five times but this was the first time that I really saw anything other than London,” he said. “So this was a new experience, and I really liked the different experience that I had.”
The tour also retraced some of the steps of one of Islam’s most prominent figures, Malcolm X. Griggs credits X with inspiring him to convert to the faith as a young man.
“What was interesting was that one of the gentlemen who attended the lecture was actually a member of the organization that had brought Malcolm … when he was there in 1964,” he noted. “Really, the shadow of Malcolm was ever-present the whole time that I was there.”
Griggs, who has studied the former Nation of Islam leader’s life extensively, has already been invited back to do another speaking tour specifically on Malcolm X next year.
Griggs said he recognized many parallels between the experiences of American Muslims and the students he encountered overseas.
“Young Muslims in western societies are equally challenged to find a space for themselves in the society in which they live. Islamophobia is not just a United States phenomenon, and it’s more virulent in some places in Europe,” he observed. “Their challenge is just trying to identify that space – Where do I fit in? How do I contribute? Should I just withdraw? – and I think it’s a similar challenge here in the US.”
The tour culminated with a visit to the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester, where Griggs spoke on “Standing for Justice.” Not surprisingly, his son-in-law Darryl Hunt – the man who spent nearly 20 years in prison for a murder he did not commit – came up in conversation. Griggs’ own struggle with adversity was also a point of interest for many of the students overseas. Following Griggs’ hiring as WFU’s first Muslim chaplain in 2010, a subgroup of dissenters launched a very public campaign in protest of his appointment, but Griggs – and the university – remained steadfast, refusing to bow to the pressure. Griggs said sometimes social justice is simply a matter of being willing to stand up for what you believe.
“I’ve never been one to back down from fights. I mean, I’m not known as a physical fighter – don’t have that reputation – but I think even from high school, I’ve engaged in justice on whatever level that I thought I could,” he said. “So I can’t get to this age now and not be someone other than who I am.”
Despite the backlash it received at Griggs’ hiring, Wake Forest weathered the storm, Auman said. He believes the experiential learning of students on campus is greatly enhanced by the diverse perspectives Khalid and other religious minorities bring to the table.