Mohammad Afzal Mirza pursued his holy Jihad this past weekend in Tillsonburg.
An Iman – member of the Muslim clergy – born and raised in Pakistan, Mirza emigrated to the United States in 1981 and is undergoing the process of becoming a Canadian citizen. Listing his current occupation as ‘missionary,’ Mirza hosted an open house on Islam and its tenets Saturday at the Tillsonburg Public Library along with compatriot Mohammad Hanif Mohammad and a group of supporters.
Islam is divided into two major denominations, Sunni – estimated at between 80 and 90% of the faith – and Shiite (the balance), who differed originally on method of succession from the Prophet Mohammad. Beyond the two major denominations, there are reportedly over 70 sects, differing based on factors including interpretation of Muslim scripture (the Quran) and geographical and cultural differences.
Like any religion, Islam has extremist views, encouraged perhaps in part by the growth of Wahhabism, a branch which has become the dominant form of Islam in Saudi Arabia and whose international growth has been supported by that nation’s considerable finances. Regardless of source, media attention to extremist acts – ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ – have contributed to at times negative stereotyping of the broader Islamic religion. Despite the many positive aspects of the faith and its followers, it is the tiny minority of admittedly hugely negative actions which receive the majority of attention. It is hard to accurately convey the impact of the ‘good stuff’, says Mirza, “But if someone blows up a building, it is all over the news.”
He is a member of the Ahmadi congregation, a more liberal sect based out of a mosque in Maple, Ontario (near Wonderland). The word Jihad has taken on connotations of a holy war against ‘non-believers’, but is more accurately translated as ‘to struggle’ says Mirza, who notes the Quran states one should not harm another by voice or hand.
“There is no holy war,” he said. “We do not believe war can be holy because war is ugly and horrible, there is nothing holy about it.”
A student of broader world religions including Christianity and Judaism, Mirza’s personal holy Jihad is the struggle to more accurately communicate the principals and beliefs of what he considers the true Islam and promote understanding between communities of faith. Members of the Ahmadi congregation have reached out across the province, hosting open houses in 142 communities throughout Ontario including Tillsonburg.
Hanif said there is religious precedent within the Quran, paraphrasing one passage: “All the people of the book, let us join hands to promote goodness.”
‘People of the book’ refers to religious groups who follow scripture and base their life on a moral code, says Mirza, whose own education has led him to believe roughly 80% of tenets within the Quran and Bible, for example, are very similar, with many of the differences cultural, environmental and geographical.
Fundamental principals including belief in one God, being good to each other and living under a code of behaviour with respect for others are common to religion, if varying in interpretation.
“If we act on the fundamentals of our faith, there is nothing wrong we can get out of these fundamentals.”
The open houses feature displays outlining Islamic fundamentals supported by a human team which says Mirza, has fielded questions on Jihad, suicide bombings and killings, women’s rights, the Quran, Islamic law, and Israel’s right to exist.
“You name it, we get all kinds of questions,” he said, welcoming the opportunity to provide one-on-one responses. “We are here to explain, bring me all the hard questions you have and I’ll try and calm your fears.”
The ongoing exercise has reinforced Mirza’s belief “on the grounds of faith, we are all brothers and sisters,” emphasizing commonalities, rather than differences.
“We say religion unites us, it does not divide us,” he said. “If we use the fundamentals of our faiths, this world of ours can become a peaceful and beautiful place to live and share.”
Article by, Tillsonburg News.