Following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, an article by Rob Asgar for Forbes decried the lack of effective leadership in the Muslim world before highlighting the efforts of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai and former radical Maajid Nawaz in readdressing the balance.
As Asgar put the question:
Why does the Muslim world seem to lack great leaders right now, in the wake of Parisian terror and the ongoing evolution of ISIS?
It is a familiar lament and one which intensifies with every atrocity committed in Islam’s name.
At the forefront of the current cycle of violence is the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). Since 2011, when fighting broke out in Syria and Iraq, close to 20000 foreign fighters, most of them under 35, have travelled to the region to join the group. As fresh attacks demonstrate, their struggle is no longer confined to the Middle East and like Al Qaeda before them it has taken on an international complexion.
Though still a scant number, these trends show that Muslim youth are increasingly being drawn to radical versions of Islam. What is even more worrying is the lack of effective leadership within Muslim ranks to act as a bulwark against this swell.
However, there is another leading figure in the Muslim world, who along with his followers is forging a path of reconciliation in these perilous times. He too is a Khalifa, but as epitomized by the motto of his community – love for all, hatred for none – the Khilafat he represents is very different to the one of ISIS.
From his offices in the London suburb of Southfields, whose principal claim to fame is its close proximity to the Wimbledon tennis championships, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad heads the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
For those who are not aware, the Ahmadiyya Movement was founded in 1889 by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India, who claimed to be the Promised Messiah and Mahdi foretold by the Prophet of Islam. He further claimed to have been chosen by God as a prophet to revive the fortunes of the faith.
His declaration was met with violent opposition as it was seen to contradict the orthodox belief that revelation and prophecy had ended with the Prophet Muhammad. Since that time, Ahmadis have suffered horrendous persecution, none more so than in Pakistan where in 1974 they were declared non-Muslims by the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Things became even worse ten years later when the Islamization policies of the dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, essentially outlawed them from all religious practices. As a result the Ahmadiyya Khalifa was forced to migrate from Pakistan and the Khilafat has been headquartered in London ever since.
Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad became the fifth head of the community in 2003 and throughout his leadership he has striven to continue the legacy of his predecessors in promoting peace, tolerance and inter-faith harmony. His initiatives include the launch of an annual peace symposium in 2004 as well as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Prize for the Advancement of Peace – an international award that recognizes peace building efforts of individuals and organizations. Past winners include Pakistani social activist Abdul Sattar Edhi and the SOS Children’s Village.
This commitment to reconciliation and social harmony can also be seen in his followers. The Ahmadiyya youth movement in the United Kingdom raised over £1.5 million for various charities last year including through their Ride4Peace initiative. Earlier this month their efforts for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal were acknowledged by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who praised them for their ‘clear commitment to community work, tolerance and peace.’ Elsewhere in the USA the community there holds an annual blood-donation drive in September under theMuslims for Life banner. The aim of this campaign is to honor the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks by demonstrating that there are Muslims out there who value the sanctity of life.
Alongside all this the principle message the Khalifa takes with him around the world is that Islam is a religion of peace and it is the duty of all Muslims to be loyal, law-abiding citizens of the country they live in as well ambassadors for social cohesion and peaceful co-existence in accordance with the tenets of their faith.
However, in a symptom of the many problems afflicting the Muslim world at the moment, many are loathe to follow the example set by Ahmadis because they are seen as heretics who exist outside the pale of Islam. Hostility to the community is intense even among western Muslim populations while in countries like Pakistan andIndonesia it often manifests itself through violence.
Regardless of the antagonism towards them the unwavering commitment of Ahmadis and their Khalifa to peace shows that there are far more progressive interpretations than the violent ideologies promoted by the likes of the Islamic State. Perhaps it is time we all started to listen.