African Americans and Muslim Americans
Originally Published in Patheos
By: Ibrihim Ahmed
“The death toll has now risen to 60 people, and gunmen are still inside the two mosques, carrying out continuous killings”, said the news anchor. I was watching the television with horror along with my two younger sisters. My mother called us from work telling us to stay calm and that everything would be alright. What concerned me was that my father was inside one of the mosques where these attacks were taking place. He was in the basement praying when he suddenly heard gun shots. Gradually, the gunshots got louder and louder. I found out later, that my father had called my mother and said he was not sure if he was even going to survive.
Thankfully, my father survived but when he came home his shirt was stained with blood and his face reflected what he had seen. On that day, May 28th 2010 over 80 Ahmadi Muslims had been martyred because of their religion in what are referred to as the Lahore terrorist attacks. My sisters and I hugged him like we had never hugged him before. About every week, we hear about at least one Ahmadi being martyred. Even in the Pakistani media, anti-Ahmadi rhetoric is explicit as Muslim televangelists encourage the murder of Ahmadi’s. I was not allowed to tell anyone that I was Ahmadi at my school. If I did, it was quite likely that I would have been victimized and discriminated against. In 1974, the Pakistani government amended the constitution so that Ahmadis were declared Non-Muslims. Ever since then, the innocent killings of Ahmadis has become normal in Pakistan. Furthermore, many mullahs(religious clerics) in the country labeled Ahmadis not only as heretics but have continued over the decades to tell their followers that killing Ahmadi Muslims will lead them into heaven. If we offended any Muslim in Pakistan for even the slightest reason, we could face a prison sentence. But we had hope.
Every Friday, my family and I would gather in the living room to listen to the soothing words of his Holiness, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The non-political Khilafat had been moved to London in 1984 because of persecution in Pakistan. Broadcasting his sermons to Pakistan, he would remind us over and over again to remain steadfast as he once did and never to resort to violence.
Since the 1960’s, much of my extended family had been moving to America to escape the persecution. The long calls on Skype with my relatives made me hope that one day my family would go somewhere where we could experience the blessings of true freedom. That day came. We were granted a visa to the greatest country in the world, the United States of America on February 22nd 2013. Coming to this beautiful nation, I finally tasted freedom. I was able to openly practice my religion and I did not fear for my family’s safety anymore. Not to mention, I became a Lakers fan. We must be grateful for the endless blessings that come with living in America. I know I am. His Holiness continues to be a beacon of light for me. Shortly after I came to America, he came to California for a tour. He met with Ahmadi Muslims as well as various leaders around the country. Meeting him in person was one of the best experiences of my life. His teachings are universal, peaceful, simple yet powerful.
Islam is not a monolithic force and my community’s experiences in Pakistan serve as an example.