Family came here to escape persecution at home: ‘We’re just normal people’

The purpose of the “Meet a Muslim” campaign started by Nameer and other members of his Ahmadi sect is to dispel what their community believes are misconceptions about Muslims held by many Americans. (Photo by Len Lear)

by Len Lear

I could not help but notice the headline, “Get to know a Muslim,” over a letter to the Inquirer on March 23. The letter, sent by Nameer Ahmad Bhatti, a member of the Muslim Writers Guild of America and a Blue Bell resident, stated: “I was deeply appalled after reading about letters mailed to the United Kingdom calling for a ‘Punish a Muslim Day.’ In response, I and 12 of my Muslim brothers, through the guidance of Khalifa of Islam Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, initiated a ‘Meet a Muslim’ campaign. We have traveled to various cities and held up a sign with the words ‘I am a Muslim. Ask me anything … ’”

I think this a wonderful idea, so I contacted Nameer, and the two of us met last Tuesday night at a restaurant in Blue Bell. Nameer, 32, was a few months old when his parents, Abdul and Zahida, and brother, Safeer, came to the U.S. from Pakistan. They settled in Maryland but moved to this area in 1992.

Nameer went to Wissahickon High School. “We had a good mix of ethnics — Korean, Indians and Pakistanis,” he said, “so they are more willing to see differences. After 9/11 a teacher said to me, ‘If anyone bothers you, let me know.’ That was very nice. One kid called me a ‘Paki’ (an ethnic slur), but that was all.”

Nameer graduated with honors in 2008 from Villanova University with a degree in accounting and finance. Since then he has worked as an accountant for a publicly traded firm in Bryn Mawr. A licensed CPA, he has encountered no bias on the job. “There is a lot of diversity training where I work,” he said. “The company does a good job with that.”

Nameer’s father was accepted into a PhD program at the University of Maryland, but his thesis professor passed away suddenly when he was about to graduate. The university required Abdul to go through two more years of studying, but with a wife and children, he could not do it, so he left the program and is now in business.

Nameer’s mother studied home economics and then became a teacher. His brother has a PhD in conflict resolution and has traveled all over the world working on the resolution of ethnic and national conflicts.

The nationwide “Meet a Muslim” campaign was started last year. Hundreds of other Muslims have participated in it. The campaign was started after the Pew Research Center conducted a poll and found that 62 percent of Americans had never met a Muslim!

Nameer is a member of a sect of Islam called the Ahmadiyya (followers of Ahmad) Muslim Community founded in Punjab, British India, near the end of the 19th century. It originated with the life and teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908), who claimed to have appeared in fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the end times and who was to bring about, by peaceful means, the final triumph of Islam, as predicted in Islamic scriptures.

Ahmad claimed to have been divinely appointed as both the promised Mahdi (“Guided One”) and the Messiah awaited by Muslims. “We are guided by the Khalife, who is now in Canada,” said Nameer. “He is like a Pope. He came from Pakistan. We believe he is spiritually guided. In England they have a ‘Dial a Muslim’ program. Our sect is persecuted in Pakistan. My father applied to medical school in Pakistan but was denied admission because he was Ahmadi.

“The reason he left Pakistan (with the family) was for both religious reasons and to make a living but primarily to practice his faith in peace. Because Ahmadis are persecuted in Pakistan, there is not much opportunity for us.

“There are tens of millions of us (Ahmadis). Everybody should have the right to choose his/her religion. We can argue with others about religious beliefs, but we believe we must act in a civilized manner.”

The Writers Guild, to which Nameer belongs, is a subsect of the Ahmadi community. There are about 50 writers in it. The “Meet a Muslim” campaign has included some organized events in major cities. The purpose is to dispel what their community believes are misconceptions about Muslims held by many Americans.

After the letter ran in the Inquirer, Nameer got eight responses, six of which were positive. “One was civilized but disagreed with me. One was off the charts, telling me we should be doing a Million Man March instead of the ‘Meet a Muslim’ campaign. You can’t please everyone, but the response to the campaign has been good all over the U.S.” (You might say that Nameer is a good will ambassador, sort of like the Pakistani character in last year’s Oscar-nominated movie, “The Big Sick.”)

Nameer’s wife, Anum, is also from Pakistan. They have two children, one and two-and-a-half years old. “Islam gives women very high status,” he said. “The Koran says that ‘Heaven lies under the footsteps of your mother.’” Regarding the “Meet a Muslim” mission, Nameer says, “Don’t believe everything you see on TV. Talk to Muslims; get to know them. We are normal people, just like people of other religions.”

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