Originally published in the Huffington Post
My name is Kashif Chaudhry. I am a Pakistani immigrant to the United States. Currently, I am completing a Cardiology fellowship in Boston. While speaking at Yale a few days back, Ayaan Hirsi Ali declared war on me. But why?
To provide some perspective, I am a Muslim who belongs to the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is the single largest community of Muslims worldwide, with tens of millions of members in over 200 countries, all united under His Holiness, the Khalifa of Islam. Established in 1889, we have a 125-year history of demonstrating — not just claiming — that Islam promotes universal justice, freedom of speech and free exchange and criticism of ideas. We promote peace through dialogue and support universal freedom of conscience for people of all faiths — and of no faith. We are at the forefront of humanitarian service throughout the world. We run schools to impart secular education, hospitals to treat the sick and lead charity projects to provide food and water etc. across many parts of the developing world. In the United States alone, we collected 30,000 bags of blood to commemorate 9/11 victims in the last three years. We also recently took our fight against hunger to the American Congress. We condemn violent Jihad, reject apostasy and blasphemy laws as un-Islamic and champion the separation of Church and State.
The inspiration for all our work is Islam. We get our inspiration — to place Humanity first — from the teachings of the Koran and Prophet Muhammad. But in doing so, we invoke the curse of Hirsi Ali, who declares war on us for the crime of following the Koran.
I followed Hirsi Ali’s speech on social media. Here is what I have to say to her:
Yes it is. I try my best to submit to that call. I submit to the will of Allah when I serve humanity, when I serve my parents, when I help my neighbors, when I smile to everyone, when I respond to persecution with patience and prayer, when I strive for universal justice and peace etc. I try my best to follow the teachings of the Koran and live my life by it. This is exactly why we Ahmadi Muslims — as the largest growing faith community in the world — are able to achieve what we have. This is why Ahmadi Muslims have spread peacefully to all corners of the earth and continue to lead humanitarian efforts in all these places. Our inspiration is indeed the Koran.
2) Hirsi Ali, you clarified that you are at war ONLY with Muslims who follow the Koran in its entirety. I am one of hundreds of millions of such Muslims whom you place in this “first set.”
Why would you be at war with me? I spend my time doing community service, preach peace and love, condemn violence in all its forms and drive across the country on my few free weekends (Cardiology fellowship is hectic) to promote intra-faith and interfaith harmony. I spend my free evenings writing against religious extremism and bigotry, especially the type prevalent in the Muslim world. This is the bigotry that I survived and escaped. Many of my fellow brothers (and sisters) are not as lucky, and continue to be persecuted and killed by extremists in Pakistan. As if this vigorous ideological battle we fight at the forefronts was not enough, you just opened another front, declaring war on me for following the Koran.
I am glad you agree with me on the issue of ‘violent Jihad.’ Ahmadi Muslims have ‘years and years and years’ of experience preaching against violent Jihad. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the community, wrote over a century ago:
They (Orthodox Muslim clerics) adhere so strongly to their doctrine of jihad — which is completely misguided and entirely contradicts the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and hadith — that they label as “dajjal ” (Antichrist) and advocate the murder of anyone who as much as objects. – British Government and Jihad, pg.8
He also stated:
They should remember that their understanding of jihad is not at all correct, and that human sympathy is its first casualty. Their belief, that jihad (with the sword) should be lawful today because it was permitted in early Islam, is totally incorrect… Under no circumstance did our Holy Prophet (pbuh) raise the sword against anyone unless they had first raised the sword; mercilessly killing innocent, pious men, women and children with such brutality that reading about these events even today brings tears to our eyes.
The Jihad that we engage in is spiritual self-reformation and an intellectual defense of Islam with the pen. It has nothing to do with violence. I have touched on this issue in a little more detail in this editorial I wrote for the New Jersey Record.
Hirsi, I agree there are radical clerics in the Muslim world who preach a belligerent interpretation of Jihad. I agree they are a problem. I, hence, invite you to join me in fighting this problem. The violent Jihadis persecute me. They kill me. And now you join them in declaring war on me? For humanity sake, my hands are full right now.
I hear you. This is genuinely sad and frustrating for me too. I speak about these issues on social media all the time. The radicals in the Muslim world have political backing and use this influence to silence us moderates. In Pakistan, for instance, a governor and federal minister who spoke against the country’s cruel and inhumane blasphemy laws were gunned downed. The blasphemy and apostasy laws are tools used by radical extremists to maintain control and power. Three of my uncles went to jail under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Thousands of others suffer worse fates. Thankfully, with time and education, more and more Muslims are becoming aware of the unIslamic nature of these laws.
I pray for the day when these laws are repealed wherever they exist in the Muslim world. So do hundreds of millions of other Muslims worldwide. Once again, I invite you to join us moderates — who suffer from these laws on the ground — instead of declaring war on us.
Anyone who claims FGM to be a ‘Muslim problem’ is dishonest. I am glad we agree that FGM pre-dated Islam and is present across different cultures and tribes. FGM has no sanction in the Koran and popular Islamic tradition. Some schools of thought within Islam do encourage FGM based on certain controversial narrations. The majority of Muslims, however, rejects such views and believes a solution presents itself in the form of mass education and awareness campaigns. We believe FGM should be viewed as an act of terrorism.
It is a fact that FGM is common in other non-Muslim communities as well. The largest ethnic group in Kenya — the Kikuyu tribe — is one example. According to a Kenya Demographic Health Survey (1998), “42.5 per cent of Kikuyu women aged between 15 and 49 have been circumcised” (The Nation 5 Jan. 2000). According to the FGM Website, half of the Kenyan population (6,300,000) have undergone the practice. A Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival (BASICS) report states that “80 percent of women above the age of 14 have undergone some type of FGM. Evidence suggests that the age of circumcision is getting younger and younger.”
We need more health awareness campaigns to educate people across all such cultures and tribes that have failed to see the crime in FGM. Just shouting “FGM is a Muslim problem and so lets declare war on all Koran followers,” is not just dishonest, it is counterproductive. Let us fight this good fight together Hirsi Ali. I am sorry for what you had to go through and I am sorry for what happens to millions of women like you — primarily in Africa. I invite you to join me — instead of declaring war on me — in fighting the horror of FGM through education.
Yes we do. This is why the majority of Muslims in the Muslim world refuse to send their kids to ‘madrassas,’ many of which have become recruiting grounds for radical clerics. The majority of practicing Muslims send their kids to secular schools, yet teach them the Koran at home or through Muslim schools — the same Muslim day schools you advocate should be closed down.
As a Muslim youth leader in North Jersey, I had the opportunity to supervise one such Muslim day school at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Mosque in North Jersey every Saturday. Like me, the kids who graduated from this school continue to be heavily invested in community work. They are helping make America a better place for everyone.
Firsly, Saudi Arabia is not representative of Islam. This naïve simplistic view of the faith of 2 billion humans is insulting to your intellect. Many of your counterparts in the antisemitic world make the same mistake, confusing Israel’s controversial policies with the teachings of Judaism.
Secondly, if a symbol in a flag signifying military prowess is any indication of the flag-bearer’s (or their faith’s) inherent violent nature, then what do you say about the following:
1) The seal of the President of the United States has thirteen arrows denoting the ‘power of war.’ Does this show of military power mean ‘Christianity’ or ‘secularism’ (however you see the country) is inherently violent? Or is the President a violent savage? I don’t think so.
2) The flags of Guatemela, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Mozambique etc also contain military symbols. None of these is a Muslim-majority country. Does this translate to the inherent violence in the people or faith of the citizens of these States?
3) The flags of some of the US States — including mine i.e. Massachusetts — have a sword in it too. Does that mean the residents of Massachusetts, or people all over the world who share the majority faith practiced here (Christianity) are not peaceful?
4) The flag of many counties (e.g Essex county) and cities, including one of my favorite — London — has a sword as a symbol. Would it be fair to infer that Londoners are not peaceful or that those who share their values anywhere in the world must be violent savages?
Sorry Hirsi Ali, this one was lame. No offense.
We are. Its been too long now. We are only picking pace with time. We get persecuted and killed on the front-lines every day. But while we continue to be resilient in fighting radical extremists, you refuse to join those that support our tolerant and peaceful narrative on Islam and the Koran. You even refuse to join the silent majority that remains neutral on this issue. Shockingly, you give credence to the narrative of our enemies as the ONLY true narrative on Islam, then group all Koran followers together, and declare war on us. If you cant share our burden Hirsi, please don’t make it worse for us.
And if you are genuinely unaware of the work we moderates do, just read this Oped — published on the same day as your speech — written by the spokesperson of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. Also follow our intellectual Jihad against all radicals and extremists — religious or otherwise — at the Muslim Writers Guild of America. Do subscribe.
Lets end this on a complete agreement. Thank you for reiterating what all American Muslims already know and cherish — the superior values and freedoms of the United States. This is exactly why I am writing this blog. I believe it is hurtful to American Muslims who follow Islam and the Koran that you would brand them with the likes of ISIS and declare war on them alike. I ask that you reconsider. I ask that you redirect your war towards those who want you dead in the Muslim world. Unlike those outliers, I would give my life for you happily. My Islam and my Koran teach me that sanctity.
I declare peace on you. Will you reciprocate?