Azim Khamisa: Forgiveness

by Naomi Gledhill from Telford in United Kingdom

"Sustained goodwill creates friendship, sustained friendship creates trust, sustained trust creates empathy, sustained empathy creates compassion, and sustained compassion creates peace." - Azim Khamisa

153258Azim Khamisa Azim Khamisa, with permission

International author, peace activist and inspirational speaker Azim Khamisa was born in Kenya, Africa. He studied math, economics and finance in the U.K., before becoming a successful investment banker. His life took a dramatic turn in January 1995, however, when his 20-year-old son, Tariq, was murdered whilst delivering pizzas.

Khamisa’s son Tariq was studying Journalism at San Diego State University and was newly engaged to his girlfriend Jennifer at the time of his death. Alongside studying, he worked part-time as a pizza delivery driver; on the night he died, his last delivery led him to a bogus address, where he found four youth gang members. The leader of the group was eighteen years old, and the other three were only fourteen. The gang leader handed fourteen-year-old Tony Hicks a nine-millimeter gun and instructed him to shoot Tariq as part of a gang initiation. Tariq was shot under the left shoulder and died a few moments later. All four gang members received prison sentences, and Tony Hicks was the first fourteen-year-old to be sentenced as an adult in California; he received twenty-five years to life in prison.

153259Azim Khamisa with his son, TariqAzim Khamisa, with permission

Azim described learning of his son’s death as “a nuclear bomb going off in [his] heart,” explaining that he felt all the emotions you would expect a parent in his situation to experience. However, he recognized that, “There were victims at both ends of the gun,” and believed that the only way he himself could stop being a victim, was to forgive. Five years after Tariq died, Azim visited Tony Hicks in prison for the first time; he noted that whilst looking into Hicks’ eyes, trying to find a murderer, he couldn’t. At an event hosted by TED, Khamisa explained that:

“We humans have many defining moments in our lives. Sometimes these moments are joyous; and sometimes they are heart-breaking, tragic. But at these defining moments, if we are able to make the right choice, we literally manifest a miracle in us and others.”

Tariq’s death sparked his father’s work as a social activist; he founded the Tariq Khamisa Foundation (TKF) with the hopes of preventing more tragedies like the death of his son from occurring. Azim reached out to Ples Felix, Tony Hicks’ grandfather, and invited him to join his mission to spread the importance of forgiveness. The Tariq Khamisa Foundation works on the basis of three mandates:

    1. Save the lives of children
    2. Empower the right choices
    3. Teach the principles of nonviolence

The TKF has a “Safe School Model,” which includes four programs. The first is an assembly presented by both Azim and Ples, in which they outline their story and teach the principles of forgiveness and peace. They also offer an in-classroom curriculum and after-school mentoring program. Finally, they offer a Peace Club, providing students with a safe place to explore positive choice-making and equip themselves with tools to avoid violent and aggressive behavior. Since running the programs, they have seen a 70% decrease in suspensions and expulsions in the schools they have visited.

In April 2020, Tony Hicks was released from prison. Both Azim and his daughter Tasreen were present at Hicks' parole hearing, and advocated strongly for his release, acknowledging that Hicks was a victim of American society. Since his release, Tony has been working on getting into school, learning to drive, and working closely with The Tariq Khamisa Foundation to tell his story to promote peace-building and non-violence. 

153260Azim Khamisa with Tony Hicks following Hicks' release in 2020Azim Khamisa, with permission

In his talk for TED, Khamisa explained, “Sustained goodwill creates friendship, sustained friendship creates trust, sustained trust creates empathy, sustained empathy creates compassion, and sustained compassion creates peace.” When asked how he shows goodwill to the person that murdered his child, he responds, “Through forgiveness.”

Azim Khamisa says, “Peace is possible. How do I know that? Because I am at peace.”

To watch a short film about Azim Khamisa, click here

Page created on 7/10/2023 4:18:32 PM

Last edited 11/15/2023 6:26:36 PM


, . Azim Khamisa. [Online] Available

, . Azim Khamisa: The Tool of Forgiveness. [Online] Available

, . What comes after tragedy? Forgiveness | Azim Khamisa and Ples Felix. [Online] Available