Ahmad El-Khatib is a versatile Palestinian athlete who ranked third place in the National Blackbelt League and won the Grand Champion title in the World Cup Martial Arts finals. Even so, his true passion in life is teaching and creating inclusive spaces where men, women, and children can learn new skills that will boost their self-esteem and improve their lives. To this end, he founded the NUR Center, a community center in Washington, D.C. that offers Montessori schooling, an art studio, martial arts classes, fitness classes, performances, film screenings, and workshops for individuals of all faiths and walks of life. El-Khatib explains his values and the motivation for the work he does at a conference organized by the Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program at Harvard University.
Ahmad explains that Islam is naturally inclusive and then reminds his listeners of the importance of respecting elders of all faiths, noting that elderly individuals have a wealth of life experience, and it is important to listen to their stories and learn from them. He then presented a list of changes that should be made to bring about greater inclusivity. The first one, he explains, is the need to reemphasize the commonality of mankind. Rather than dividing and segregating people according to skin color, ethnic background, gender, age, or other criteria, El-Khatib stresses that each individual should strive to see each person he or she comes in contact with as a fellow human being in need of kindness and deserving of respect and common courtesy. He calls for re-empowering indigenous people and giving marginalized people a voice, strengthening family ties, and encouraging those who have lost hope. He explains the importance of connecting with nature as a source of inspiration and beauty that can reduce stress and bring peace and calm while calling for a greater emphasis to be put on sustainability to protect the planet from pollution and the potentially devastating effects of global warming. He calls for a re-ignition of creativity in order to inspire innovation that will bring about positive change in the world at large. Finally, he explains the need to eliminate negative feelings and thought patterns such as hate and selfishness, replacing these with love, kindness, and a spirit of generosity.
El-Khatib is not only vocal about the need to bring about greater inclusivity but also puts his words into practice on a daily basis. The NUR Community Center’s Montessori program for children includes classes on peace education, conflict resolution, and community building. The inclusion of martial arts training is designed to teach self-control while cultural activities help students get to know other cultures, customs, and religions to promote tolerance and inclusivity. The center has been praised as a highly useful venue that is meeting the needs of its community and A. El-Khatib’s message of inclusivity is gaining prominence as he works with others to build a better world.