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.