Originally published in The Davidsonian
If any Church or other place of worship stands in need of protection, they will find us standing shoulder to shoulder with them.” (Message to Pope Benedict XVI, 6 December 2011) Who wrote this to Pope Benedict XVI?
His Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the spiritual successor or “Khalifa” in Arabic of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. His Holiness is the leader of the largest single body of Muslims led by one leader. Unlike the caliph of ISIS who is in the news a lot, Abu Bakr Baghdadi, this Khalifa is a peaceful and loving one. The Khalifa has followers in over 200 countries and he oversees dozens of hospitals, schools, and philanthropic projects around the world. As an American follower of the Khalifa, I recognize how the Khalifa can not only provide me and Ahmadi Muslims like myself with spiritual leadership but he can help break the tension between America and Islam. The American Ahmadiyya Muslim Community under the supervision of the Khalifa has created the True Islam campaign in an effort to promote dialogue here at home about Islam. The campaign outlines ten basic beliefs that distinguish peaceful and violent Islam such as the division between Mosque and State as well as tolerance of all religions. I encourage everyone to learn more about this campaign at TrueIslam.com.
Contrary to popular perception, Islam is not a religion of violence. His Holiness only follows in the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammad-peace be upon him-and his first spiritual successors recognized by many Muslims as the Khilafat Rashideen or the “Rightly Guided Khalifa’s.”
A great story about Khalifa Omar, the second rightly guided Khalifa declining to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, demonstrates a commitment to tolerance that can change our hearts about Islam as Americans. When Khalifa Omar seized Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire, the Christians in Jerusalem invited Khalifa Omar to pray inside the Church. Khalifa Omar denied the offer simply because he wanted to make sure that the Church was not annexed by his followers. The Islamophobes will immediately note how this must have meant that the Muslims were eager to steal the Church but it is a repetitive theme in human history for Mosques to become Churches and Churches to become Mosques. One famous case is the Great Mosque of Cordoba becoming a church in Spain. Another case is of the Haga Sophia becoming a Mosque in Turkey. But this did not happen to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because of Khalifa Omar’s willingness to protect the church. Khalifa Omar succeeded the Prophet Mohammad only two years after his death and he seized Jerusalem without any bloodshed. The Christians in Jerusalem gave the keys of the Church to him which he then gave to a Muslim Arab family that still opens the Church today.
Khalifa Omar recognized what the founding fathers recognized. When people of different backgrounds come together, they all become stronger. What is going on with Islam is the same thing that is going on with America. As Islam aged, even though the Quran remained the same, people’s interpretations of it became distorted. Similarly, the Constitution is being trampled on by “constitutionalists” like Ben Carson and Donald Trump. When Khilafat exists on the precepts of justice, it can provide for the betterment of humanity at large. When it is wrecked in violence, it is no longer even Khilafat or “successorship.” The Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is not in the news a lot but he is working for world harmony and spreading a peaceful Islam. On the other hand, the so called caliph of ISIS is following a past that has simply never even existed.]]>
Originally published in The Mooresville Tribune
Although most Muslims believe that defensive wars are permissible in Islam, this man realized that the only way to really defend Islam in this day and age is simply through dialogue and that this was the “Jihad of the age.” This man’s name is Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian and he was recognized as the Messiah by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Many Muslims clerics regard Ghulam Ahmad as a false messiah and consider his followers to be heretics.
I was born in the Seattle metropolitan area 20 years ago to Ahmadi Muslim parents. As I have grown up, I have heard many stories about how my family was persecuted because of the community we belong to. The most fascinating and horrific element of this persecution is about how the other Muslims persecute the Ahmadi’s for calling themselves Muslims and doing “Muslim things.”
My grandfather’s stories have had a particular effect on me. When my grandfather was a child, he was kidnapped and held for ransom. Thankfully, my great grandfather was able to pay the ransom and my grandfather was set free. Time and time again, he was harassed at school, at work and within almost every public sphere of life. Some would decide that the only word that was acceptable to call him by was the word “Qadiani.” The word became so derogatory that it simply because an insult in the common day language of Pakistani’s.
This did not stop my grandfather or the other Ahmadi’s from practicing their religion. The worse the persecution became, the more they came together. Yet they abided by the laws and remained peaceful. Gradually though, my grandfather along with other people in my family left for America.
Flash forward to 2016, and now the Muslim extremists have decided to declare “Jihad” not only on Ahmadi’s but Americans and the World at large. As an Ahmadi Muslim, I am in a tough position. The breaking point for my grandfather was when the Pakistani government decided that the only way Ahmadi’s could be recognized as Muslims was if they signed a form that declared the person we recognize as a Messiah as an imposter.
This was not a trivial matter.
My grandfather realized that if we admit that our peaceful version of Islam is not a “true” reflection of Islam then this is handing victory to the Muslim extremists. This was the turning point not only for my grandfather but for thousands of Ahmadi’s who now live in America. Now ironically, Donald Trump is going to group my community with the Muslim extremists if and when he becomes a President as outlined by his plan through the use of ID cards.
For my extended family members who still have their old Pakistani passports and now their new American ones, they will have one in which it is written that they are “Muslim” and another one in which it is written that they are not. On one side, we have the Muslim extremists who want to monopolise Islam and on the other side we have Donald Trump and other Islamophobes who have painted the entire Muslim community with a broad brush. The Islamophobes fail to take into account that there has not been a single Ahmadi Muslim indicted let alone convicted of terrorism.
The Islamophobes fail to take into account the 126 year peaceful Jihad of my community. The Islamophobes are like the Muslim extremists in the sense that they are narrow minded and do not open themselves to nuance.
I invite everyone to become part of the True Islam campaign. You do not have to be a Muslim to be part of this campaign. All you have to do is recognize that even if you do not believe in Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) claims, you can accept that his teachings do not directly lead to terrorism and extremism. The historians are clear, Muhammad was a pluralist and a tolerant person. This campaign was launched by my community at the end of last year and all you have to do to be part of it is sign your name on our website, TrueIslam.com.
Donald Trump fails to recognize that America is already great, all we have left to do is come together as one.
Originally published in The Beliefnet
Roaming the streets of Istanbul during this past Thanksgiving break with my camera and tripod was a dream come true. As a photographer, I loved staring at the beautiful scenes of the cosmopolitan city and capturing every detail with my DSLR camera. As an Arabic calligrapher, I sat in a mosque entranced by the beautiful twisting of Arabic letters decorating the walls and ceilings. As an Ahmadi Muslim, I felt my faith rekindling in the company of so much Islamic history. But most importantly, as an American, I felt proud to be able to freely travel and enjoy these experiences.
I awoke to a text from my father on the morning of January 12th, 2016. He informed my family of the tragic attacks in Istanbul, followed by the message, “God saved us.” We had visited Turkey just seven weeks prior to the attacks, and everyone in my family was truly grateful for our safety. But it was, in a way, surreal.
It was surreal to picture the joyous streets filled with beautiful people and buildings suddenly turn chaotic and hateful. I could barely imagine the open Sultanahmet Square being closed off by Polis tape. When I try to picture destructive ISIS militants in the area, my imagination is blocked by the happy memories I and so many others share from Istanbul. But this doesn’t make a difference looking forward. From now on, tourists will be scared of terrorists. Security will be heightened and Islam’s name will continue to be hijacked by these so-called Muslim extremists.
In a wave of ISIS-linked attacks, from the November 13th attacks in Paris to the December 2nd attacks in San Bernardino, the international community has seen too much of the un-Islamic “Islamic State.” On January 14th, 2016, tragedy struck yet again in Jakarta, Indonesia, when gunmen and a suicide bomber killed three people and injured 25 more. The blast was caught on video, and scenes of Indonesian law enforcement flooding the streets of Jakarta can be found online.
However, the ongoing news coverage of the attacks in Jakarta and Istanbul is minuscule compared to the coverage of the San Bernardino and Paris attacks. It’s more common to hear the latest blunder from Donald Trump than to hear anything related to these attacks across various news outlets. Any attempt to find information on Twitter regarding these two latest attacks in Jakarta and Istanbul requires various sifting and searching; whereas, fresh information and news is still being released in regards to Paris and San Bernardino.
I don’t find it a coincidence that Turkey is a majority Muslim country, with a population of over 70 million Muslims, as well as Indonesia, being the most populous Muslim country in the world. I also don’t find it a coincidence that these attacks in these countries have received not nearly enough recognition and coverage as they should.
The issue lies in the hands of myself and my fellow Americans. It can be very easy to pin the problem of ISIS on the Muslim community, and only to show concern once they commit acts of terror against majority non-Muslims. But this is a harmful and divisive perspective. This perspective claims that Muslims must deal with this Muslim problem, when in reality, this is a global issue and requires unity of all people. It’s not only non-Muslims who are bearing the brunt of ISIS. It has become clear that ISIS does not discriminate; they want to destroy Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This is why we must have unity.
Our unity does not require military strategy or massive amounts of funding. It simply requires the ideological weapon of consensus.
If we, as Americans, work towards agreeing on what “True Islam” actually is, as taught by the Prophet Muhammad, we will effectively destroy the Islamic State’s un-Islamic foundation. In order to unite and understand what “True Islam” is, as a religion which embodies all Human Rights, rejects terrorism and senseless killing, grants full religious freedom, and places a strong emphasis on racial equality and the equal treatment of women, I encourage my fellow Americans to visit www.trueislam.com and to give their endorsements. Rather than letting ISIS set the rhetoric of Islam, it’s time we stand up as a country and take the lead on speaking out for what’s factually correct and just.
Originally published in The Roanoke Times
“Make America Great Again!” a quote used by the GOP front runner Donald Trump repeatedly where he is aiming supposedly to make America great but so far all we have heard from the candidate is to ban Muslims or remove Muslims from America.
I would like to let Trump know that it is not the Muslims that America is at war with but it’s this radical extremist group named “ISIS”, which has no link to Islam and its teachings at all. As the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association USA, Dr. Bilal Rana recently said “I’m not your enemy. I’m your biggest ally” — after he was detained on a flight back from Newark Airport because of his “suspicious” appearance.
As member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community we stand united with all Americans in fighting against this radical group. If Americans stay united]]>
Originally published in The Daily Times
Originally posted on the Longview News-Journal
Another mass shooting in San Bernardino and far too many this year alone. Our sincere condolences to the families of those who have lost their loved ones and we wish the injured a speedy recovery.
Although the perpetrators of mass shootings are of varied background, the actions of those with Muslim names are easily attributed to Islam, which condemns the taking of innocent lives other than in situations of self defense. Such attribution results in hatred for the majority of the peaceful Muslims who are working hard to build this nation or even saving lives through their professions.
The double standard in the reporting of such violence in the media is so clear that when the perpetrator has a Christian name, the motive of the killing is not associated to his faith, such as the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado by Robert Dear.
As the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, we have launched the True Islam Campaign to educate people about the true peaceful teachings of Islam, something we have preached and practiced over a century since its foundation.]]>
Originally posted on The Detroit News
The recent spate of violence conducted by the Islamic State in France, Lebanon and Sinai is a cause of deep concern for all. The extremists have committed outrageous acts that bring disrepute to Muslims over the world. There is a false perception that some media outlets have promoted that all Muslims are passively sitting and do not condemn atrocities by Jihadi groups. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in metro Detroit has worked to address this misperception with efforts like the recent event “What is the pathway to peace?” at Henry Ford College. Members of this Islamic community have organizing a counter-narrative campaign to the hatred which IS or like-minded extremists have been spreading.
In the past several years, its members nationwide have helped collect more than 30,000 blood donations to honor 9/11 victims, and held more than 60 interfaith events engagements with academia, churches and synagogues. It has engaged its youth in campaigns against hunger, adopt highways and other positive social activities as a counter-response to radicalization.
The irony is IS has committed most of its crimes against their fellow co-religionists and has forced thousands of ordinary Muslims from their homes as refugees. Contrast this with the reality that Muslims have a protected right to practice Sharia in the West which includes offering prayers, preaching, construction of mosques and publication of religious books.
Defeating IS requires confronting an ideology of hate and to engage troubled youth. This happens when ordinary Muslims promote inter-communal harmony and charity to remove the misperception.
This response is inspired by Prophet Muhammad’s words that “a (true) Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands others are safe.”]]>
Originally posted on the Daily Times
The attack on the Philadelphia police officer by a so-called Muslim was a heinous act in the name of Islam. The perpetrator was clearly mentally disturbed with a warped view of Islam. Prophet Muhammad has clearly said “love of one’s country of residence is part of faith.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community fully supports our Philadelphia police and thanks you for all the work you do to protect us.]]>
Originally published in Beliefnet
The city of brotherly love is rich in cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity. The incidence on January 7th of a mentally ill individual firing at and injuring one of Philadelphia’s finest was appalling. Such a deplorable act warrants condemnation no matter which religion the suspect belongs to. After this incidence Mayor Jim Kenney demonstrated a model of true leadership by stating that this act had nothing to do with the religion of Islam. Such comments from our leaders are critically important during these challenging times. With over 200,000 Muslims in Philadelphia, it is time for this diverse city to stand united with Muslims in combating the twisted ideologies that influence ill-minded individuals. Some Muslim communities across the city and indeed across the country are continually making great strides to eradicate radicalization.
One such Muslim community has been at the forefront of attacking radicalization for about 100 years. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are Muslims who believe in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India and have been at the heart of the Philadelphia community ever since 1920 when an Ahmadi-Muslim missionary arrived in the United States and began preaching the peaceful teachings of Islam to the people of Philadelphia.
Since then, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has resided peacefully in the great city of Philadelphia. Our community has worked alongside law enforcement and public officials to clean up streets, help the homeless, and build interfaith relationships. From 2011 to 2014, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Nationwide partnered with other organizations to collect over 33,000 units of blood as part of our Muslims for Life campaign in commemoration of the lives lost on September 11th, 2011. In 2015, the youth of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community alone collected 5,000 units of blood nationally, 10% of which came from Philadelphia’s Muslim youth. On a weekly basis, members of our community cook for and feed the homeless at various shelters across the Greater Philadelphia Area. Last year, our campaign fed over 20,000 hungry individuals. This Christmas, we celebrated with our fellow Christian neighbors by distributing gifts and compliments of peace.
Our message has spread over the past 100 years in America, and thus our smaller mosque is no longer suitable for our growing membership in the Philadelphia. We have begun construction of a large-scale mosque on Broad Street and Glenwood Avenue, and expect its completion by this summer. This is an historic event for Philadelphia as this will be the first mosque built in the city from the ground up. The building of this mosque is a symbol of peace, tranquility, and tolerance in the city of Philadelphia. The true Khalifa of Islam, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has stated that “every Ahmadi Mosque, no matter where in the world it is built, is an abode of peace, security and shelter for all of humanity.”
The Ahmadiyya Muslim community regularly congregates for Friday prayer service in mosques throughout the country. Our sermons are transmitted on loudspeaker for we have nothing to hide. Our doors are open to all members of the community and we welcome anyone who has any questions or would simply like to meet a Muslim. We humbly ask for everyone to stand with us in our mission to eliminate radicalization and establish brotherly love not just in Philadelphia but in our nation.
Originally published in the Huffington Post
With last week’s release of Charlie Hebdo’s newest edition, marking the one-year anniversary of the infamous terrorist attack on its offices that killed 12 people, once again the debate about free speech has been ignited. In its recent publication, the editors at the magazine decided to take aim at all religion and blame God for terrorism. But this time, the debate is joined by other incidents which bring new light, depth and even danger to the conversation about the use and defense of free speech.
For instance, the day before this publication, 78-year-old Pastor James McConnell was cleared of hate speech charges after a three-day trial for his 2014 sermon accusing Islam of being “heathen,” “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell.” Of course, his acquittal has been heralded as a victory for free speech. There was wide debate regarding why this pastor was arrested for his expression of free speech while others argued about the offensive nature of his comments.
As a devout and outspoken Muslim, I know his comments are based on hearsay and ignorance about Islam instead of its actual teachings, but there is no reason for Pastor McConnell to be imprisoned for his words. He has the legal right to express his disagreement with other religions and to choose to use fear as a tool to convince his church members to never consider studying Islam. No matter how distasteful it is to use fear to keep his membership from dwindling, there is no reason for him to face legal punishment. I don’t mind disagreement with my faith, but of course those criticizing it should expect that I will also use my speech to address those criticisms. As I have spoken and written about on numerous occasions, true Islam does not call for any punishment for offensive speech.
More dangerous, however, are those who leverage the controversy around the new Charlie Hebdo magazine and the arrest of Pastor James McConnell to empower their staunch argument for free rein to openly mock, ridicule and offend people of religion in general and Muslims in particular. Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University London, is one such person and wrote an opinion piece arguing “Free speech should provoke. It might offend; it might be unfair; and it could well engender prejudice. But it’s the penalty we must be prepared to pay for the right to freedom of expression.”
I strongly disagree with the assertion that we should herald and celebrate the use of speech that engenders prejudice and provokes a dangerous environment. Historians who have studied gross atrocities committed against ethnic communities have uncovered that such persecution had its origins in hate-filled and divisive speech that mocked, insulted and provoked those communities.
Long before the Holocaust, Jews were mocked, offended and ridiculed by speech that was intended to engender prejudice. This “free speech” not only culminated in one of the ugliest moments in human history with the Holocaust but also in the pogroms in Europe – where Jews were repeatedly rounded up to be killed or have their homes burned. They were completely banned from England for centuries. I am frankly shocked that Professor Greenslade supports such speech that contributed to the death of millions of Jews. Let’s not forget our own history in the United States when provocation, mockery, fear and mistrust was expressed against the Japanese, culminating in the U.S. government uprooting an estimated 120,000 Americans and shipping them off to remote, military-style internment camps for three years – for no other reason than that they were at least one-sixteenth (6%) Japanese heritage.
How can anyone with any sense of integrity defend the expressions of “free speech” that were used to engender prejudice that led to the demonization and then persecution of innocent human beings? How can we let such so-called “free speech defenders” control the narrative with their rhetoric of the right to spread prejudice and mistrust? Is not the preservation of innocent lives the highest priority?
These promoters of prejudice will certainly claim that I am attempting to strip them of their rights and liberties. So let me be crystal clear: I am not calling for legislation that would ban such speech – primarily because I don’t believe the government should have to make laws telling us to not be stupid. I truly believe that human beings are good people. I believe here in my country that Americans are moral people. And instead of stooping to the level of hate-mongers, we as a society must be willing to push back against such divisive speech aimed at any group – just as we would push back against racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic speech that only serves to engender prejudice.
Provocative and incendiary speech is the greatest insult to the idea of free speech. We, as a society, must do better and recognize that our strength lies in being a moral force – in elevating our civility to the highest levels possible, as opposed to sticking to the bare minimum the law permits.
As an American and an Ahmadi Muslim, you will find in me a commitment to counter the narrative of hate and extremism. Just as the Khalifa of Islam, His Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, has taught us, we cannot defeat extremism and evil by following an ideology that serves only to demonize and insult others. Rather, we counter extremism and its ilk with better, more compassionate and more pluralistic concepts that are universal to all people – respect, integrity, and justice.]]>