Why I Did Not Boycott the ISNA Convention

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Originally published in the Huffington Post

Earlier this month Islamic scholar Dr. Tariq Ramadan publicized his impassioned decision to boycott the ISNA conference. As an Ahmadi Muslim, I disagreed with his decision. In fact, even if I agreed with every complaint he made, I still would not boycott ISNA for one simple reason — I can’t rationalize Prophet Muhammad’s pluralistic example with boycotts.

Think about this historical fact. Despite the torture, persecution, and boycotts Prophet Muhammad faced, he never once engaged in any form of a boycott against his opponents. While ample opportunity existed for Muhammad to boycott those with whom he disagreed, or those who tortured and killed his people, or those who attempted to kill him — he never engaged in such a tactic. Rather, Muhammad advocated ongoing dialogue, interaction, and understanding to mutually overcome differences.

Boycott was simply not in his vocabulary.

So when ISNA — a Sunni/Shia Muslim umbrella organization — invited me, an Ahmadi Muslim, to speak at their 51st convention in Detroit, I happily accepted. I spoke at ISNA about a topic near and dear to all Muslims regardless of sect — Prophet Muhammad’s greatness and perfection. As a result, ISNA 2014 broke new barriers of intra-faith relations. For the first time in ISNA’s recent history — possibly ever — an Ahmadi Muslim spoke at the ISNA conference. I presented my book, EXTREMIST, which responds in detail to the malicious and ignorant allegations by Islamophobes against our Master Prophet Muhammad.

And in all transparency, post-ISNA Conference I experienced some antagonistic, even vitriolic backlash by some who were upset that a “Qadiani” (pejorative for Ahmadi Muslims) spoke at ISNA. However, that paled in comparison to the majority of American Muslims at ISNA who welcomed my presentation and my participation. Indeed, the Muslim students, youth, and certainly some of the Muslim scholars I met at ISNA embraced me as an equal Muslim brother — a heart-warming gesture of solidarity.

But where do we go from here? I hope and expect this event to accomplish the following.

First, I expect that this will be the first step of many intra-faith relations between the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and America’s Sunni and Shia communities represented at ISNA. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA is among America’s oldest Muslim organizations and ISNA is North America’s largest umbrella Muslim organization. It only makes sense that we work together on common issues, and celebrate our common understandings of Islam — of which are countless. It is also an opportunity to learn about our differences directly from one another, in an environment of mutual respect. But if this event is simultaneously a first and last, then it is a lost opportunity.

Additionally, I expect that this event will demonstrate how much we all actually have in common, both dogmatically and logistically. Sectarian differences aside, we all must stand together to combat Islamophobia, correct misconceptions of Islam, promote religious freedom, and work in service to humanity. We must utilize the synergy available here for the greater good of America’s Muslim citizens and for American citizens at large.

Finally, I made some great new friends at this conference — genuine friends based off what all genuine friendships are built on — respect and dialogue. Thus, if you see me at future ISNA conferences, don’t be surprised. I’m just coming to visit old friends and make new ones. If nothing else — come by and smile because as we all know, even a smile is charity.

Prophet Muhammad taught, “The Muslim Ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain then the whole body is in pain and if the head is in pain then the whole body is in pain.” At a time when Muslims are suffering in Gaza and Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya, Central Africa and Myanmar, and while Islamophobia grows in the West — any Muslim with a beating heart should feel pain over their entire body. I know I do.

So, enough of the boycotts. This ISNA, we accomplished something truly radical and began a new conversation for tolerance. I hope this event can begin the conversation to advance intra-faith relationship within the American Muslim community to unprecedented heights.

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