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Food for body, mind and soul: Friends new and old celebrate Dr. Nyla Ali Khan’s new book. And, the celebration will continue

Patrick B. Mcguigan

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan, acclaimed author of previous academic works, reveled in an evening of substance and joy at Edmond’s Commonplace Books in May. Her new work of educational pedagogy is leavened with stirring personal memories of her youth in Kashmir, and her steady development as a teacher, scholar, and mother. She obviously relished the evening with friends, new and old.

“Although some parts of Oklahoma got torrential rain and golf-ball sized hail” the evening of her event, the popular Edmond book nook “did not cancel my book event. I gave my first in-person public talk on the book that is dedicated to my father, Dr. Mohammad Ali Matto.

“The bookstore was beautifully lit with a carefully curated selection of general interest books, and exquisite flower arrangements all over the store. The seating arrangement for my guests and me was illuminated under the glow of fairy-lights. An array of delicious hors d’oeuvres was carefully selected and served to tempt our palates.”

For the all the pure joy of the evening, she wrote reflectively about the experience in an online posting shared with this writer and others via the worldwide web: “Writing a book is a journey on which I am accompanied by kindred souls. The power of the people who accompany me on that journey teaches me that relationships are the most valuable form of capital.”

Her reflections read like a tender love note to a notable life’s companions. Those, she said, “who braved the torrential rain to come out to hear me read. … [M]y friends, who are of diverse political and ideological leanings, taught me about the power of empathetic listening. I owe my commitment to restorative work, in as well as outside the classroom, to some incredibly dedicated and insightful people in the Oklahoma community, who have not given up on building bridges even in politically threatening environments.”

A professor at Oklahoma City Community College (OCC), she looked back on the past year of educational challenge: “While the transition to online classes came with its set of challenges, my students did not throw in the towel. On the contrary, they adjusted to their new reality with a newfound confidence.”

In moments of frustration or even discouragement, she wrote, “My daughter Iman’s creative rebelliousness took me back to my adolescence. Every time I was on the verge of being demoralized by current political realities, she reminded me that life was full of purpose and meaning.”

Celebrating circulation of book dedicated to her father, she remembers “the example of my mother, Suraiya Ali née Abdullah, who has always displayed immense stoicism and fortitude.” Dr. Nyla deems herself grateful for her mother’s “ability to stand up to even the most challenging situations with dignity and quiet self-confidence.”

As for the book, it bears a title that distills provocative content: “Educational Strategies for Youth Empowerment in Conflict Zones: Transforming, not Transmitting, Trauma” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021). The book is available both in hard cover and digital format.

She reflects, “As we learn to understand more and more about trauma and resilience, we grow by working through the challenges and give one another the gift of seeing strength in one another’s narrative.”

In an interview soon after the book event, Ben Nockels, owner of Commonplace Books in downtown Edmond (Oklahoma), said the gathering was a success despite the stormy weather: “We had a delightful, heartfelt and diligent discussion around the most important issues that face the world. This was true of the broad issues, and personally as well. Although this is a new relationship, at the event we plumbed the depths of important matters. We are new friends. The attendees found her academic and scholarly, yet accessible on this important subject matter.”

Rebecca Thompson posted she enjoyed listening to Dr. Khan’s reading of sections from the academic treatise, a reflection posted after: “It was a joy to hear you share your eloquent words of wisdom and truth. You have a way of painting clearly with words on a page. You are a treasure and we are blessed to have your contributions in Oklahoma.”

Joan Bravo Korenblit recalled, “She read about trauma resulting from political challenges in her native home of Kashmir, and from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and from political terrorism in South Africa and more. Dr. Khan spoke of the possibility of healing by telling one’s own story. She told how people from opposing regions of conflict have built common ground (even though they came from forces that have been sworn enemies). Professor Khan’s powerful readings inspired discussion that we left only because the hour was late.”

The eventful weather was no problem for Germaine Odenheimer: “ The torrential rain helped set the stage for an intimate evening. Dr. Kahn’s readings led to great discussion of restorative justice and rising up in the face of adversity. Although the book focuses on the trauma facing young people in Kashmir, the lessons are universal. It was a privilege to be included.”

Suzette Vontell Chang characterized herself as “very grateful to be a part” of the gathering, and “extremely thankful there is a conscientious understanding to be an empathetic listener.” She was reflective, she told Khan in a posting, “for your choice to engage regarding uncomfortable yet necessary conversations.”

D. William Tabbernee, Executive Director Emeritus, Oklahoma Conference of Churches, did not attend, but his online review praised Khan’s volume as a “timely and much-needed book.” From her reflections and consultations with experts in trauma, Dr. Khan, he wrote, “presents practical tools for transforming, rather than perpetuating, such trauma. Dr. Khan rightly utilizes education as the means by which to provide not only contextual insights but helpful strategies to enable young people to deal with the trauma they encounter in some of the world’s greatest conflict zones.”

The personal and sometimes emotional memories laced into the book captured Tabbernee, as they did this writer. His comments: The death of her beloved father during the writing of this volume adds a level of empathy and understanding rarely seen in a rigorously researched academic, yet practical monograph. I am convinced that Dr. Khan’s ground-breaking work will make an extremely positive difference to countless young people, their families, and communities in South Asia and beyond.”

Dr. Khan’s new journey is to blend academic discipline with a kind, uniquely evangelical heart, in a journey of love to tell her story, and ours. She continues as an educator at Oklahoma City Community College, and occasional writer for worldwide and state/local news publications. All this along with service on the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women, and the Governor’s International Team.

In addition to many personal meetings and small gatherings to spread her word, she is looking forward to a July 1 “by-invitation-only” event the evening of Thursday, July 1 at the beautiful Ruffell home in north Oklahoma City.

Hosting will be Cindy and Lance Ruffell, with Ms. Pat Carr as co-host. For additional information, contact Carr via email: [email protected].

Dr. Nyla Ali Khan with Rebecca Thompson. Photo provided
Dr. Nyla Ali Khan and friends at Commonplace Books in Edmond. Photo provided.