Black Muslim activist, speaker and community leader Ibn Ali Miller spoke to a group of Yale students on Wednesday evening as part of the Muslim Students Association’s events for Islam Awareness Week.
Miller rose to fame after a video of him breaking up a street fight between two teenagers in Atlantic City went viral in late March. He drove past the fight after running errands for his mother and pulled over so that he could separate the boys, telling them, “You’re almost men, you’re not kids no more.” The video garnered widespread attention, and LeBron James and Snoop Dogg praised Miller’s actions. He was recently honored at a city council meeting in Atlantic City and spoke on the Steve Harvey show in an episode that aired April 10.
Muslim Student’s Association President Nazar Chowdhury ’20 said that the video was an example of peacemaking in a world that talks so much about the relationship between Islam and violence.
“I saw his video go viral on YouTube and getting to see his personal connection to Islam was kind of refreshing — to see someone so in love with their religion,” said Rashid Akbari ’20, one of about twenty people in attendance.
Before Miller’s speech, which took place in the Afro-American Cultural Center from 5 to 7 p.m., he approached individual students in the audience, asking them about their interests and exchanging jokes. He brought his brother, who is four years younger, with him as well. Miller, who still lives in Atlantic City, is married and has seven children.
According to its website, the Muslim Student’s Association works to provide Yale students with the opportunity to come together in a supportive Muslim environment and to educate the Yale and New Haven communities about Islam.
During the speech, Miller made an appeal for Muslim students to better understand one another and generate peace in the community.
“We are, together, the young Muslims in America,” Miller told the group. “So it’s very important that we at least understand each other — where we’re coming from and where we’re going — because there is some beef in between us.”
Miller also discussed how different racial, cultural and religious groups are isolated from one another. He said that his ancestors have always been reduced to their monetary value and that he and his friends joke about it. Miller would often say, for example, “Yo, don’t call me black, bro, I’m green.”
About thirty minutes into the event, Miller began engaging directly with members of the audience, turning his speech into a two-way conversation. Various students shared their cultural and religious backgrounds. The exercise revealed that every audience member had something in common.
Miller acknowledged that, as a dropout of three different universities, he found it funny that he had been invited to speak at Yale. The cost of Yale tuition, he said, could support an entire family in the area he comes from.
“I think one of the most powerful things he said was, ‘I really have nothing to offer you,’” Chowdhury said. “If he submitted his resume, compared to other speakers that we could have brought, there really is no reason why we should pick him over everyone else. But that’s what’s important — that peacemaking part. It’s about people talking to people, and that’s what he does best.”
After explaining how different socioeconomic backgrounds separate people, Miller called his audience to action. He asked the students to take themselves “out of the bubble.”
The Muslim Student’s Association holds Islamic Awareness Week every year to better acquaint the campus community with Islam and Muslim cultures. The organization on Tuesday presented “Muslim Monologues,” an event that explored what it means to be Muslim in the 21st century. Students who attended Miller’s talk appreciated his realistic and interpersonal perspective.
“It brought the human voice and grounded it in a way that we’re lacking a lot of times in these events at Yale,” said Susan Aboeid ’19, a member of the association.
At the end of his speech, Miller handed out bookmarks and miswaks — Muslim sticks used for teeth cleaning — and took pictures with the group. He then joined the group of students for dinner in one of the residential dining halls.
On Thursday, the Muslim Student’s Association will be hosting a Quran recitation event called “Night of Light.”
Meera Rothman | email@example.com