Source: The Islamic Monthly
On July 8, 2016, prominent American Muslim cleric Imam Omar Suleiman gave a brilliant speech at the Dallas Police memorial: “We ask that the voices of racism and xenophobia that seek to divide us are drowned out by the chorus of voices that say, ‘You will not pit us against one another.’ ” In a separate interview, he said, “My faith requires me to speak out against hatred and injustice of all sorts.”
In recent times, Muslims in America have been at the receiving end of much hate and bigotry. As such, it is significant that the Muslim community is represented at such national events.
The average American might perceive American Muslims as a homogeneous group, but it is a diverse and fast-growing community comprised of individuals from various sects, ethnicities, races and nationalities. American Muslims do share immense similarities and face common challenges, including the recent rise in Islamophobia, however, just as in Christianity, most followers of Islam identify with specific denominations that have some distinctive interpretations of scripture.
I, for instance, am a Pakistani American belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, one of America’s oldest Muslim organizations. Nearly a decade ago, I immigrated to the United States in search of security.
Ahmadi Muslims face brutal persecution in Pakistan at the hands of the state and clergy. Many Sunni Muslim clerics regularly call for the banishment, boycott, continued oppression and even killing of Ahmadis. Anti-Ahmadi hate conferences are commonplace and are considered an important part of the Sunni tradition in Pakistan. These conferences are led by prominent Sunni clerics from across the country, with the Shia clergy also abetting the hatred time and again.
Instead of protecting Ahmadi Muslims, the state endorses this bigotry. In an attempt to appease the far right, the government declared Ahmadi Muslims a “non-Muslim minority” through the Second Amendment to its Constitution in 1974. Ten years later in 1984, a presidential ordinance criminalized their profession of Islam. Hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims have since been jailed for saying the Kalima (profession of faith), reading the Quran, saying salam (greeting), giving adhan (call to prayer), referring to their place of worship as a “mosque” and themselves as “Muslim,” etc. And now clerics are demanding Ahmadi Muslims be thrown in jail for reciting the Durood (a prayer for the Prophet) as well. Consider this: I can be jailed for three years under Pakistani law for merely referring to the Ahmadis as Muslims in this article.
Imagine that Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim bigotry materializes, and the state honors this Islamophobia by making it part of the country’s law and Constitution. Imagine Christianity being represented by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Terry Jones. This is the cruelty Ahmadi Muslims are subjected to in Pakistan at the hands of clergy. Most other Sunni-majority countries also restrict the religious freedom of Ahmadi Muslims. This systemic hatred has been transported around the globe as well, with anti-Ahmadi hate conferences commonplace in some Sunni communities in the West.
Understandably, I moved out of Pakistan. Here in America, I hoped to meet open-minded Muslims who would condemn this ongoing persecution that is primarily in the name of Sunni Islam. And I did. I have made friends with numerous Sunni and Shia Muslims, including activists and journalists who boldly and publicly sympathize with the plight of Ahmadi Muslims and oppose Pakistan’s anti-Ahmadi laws in no ambiguous terms. I also met a handful of scholars, like Imam Abdullah Antepli, who embrace Ahmadis as fellow Muslims and publicly condemn their apartheid in Pakistan.