AHMED: Reform in the Muslim world must come from within

Sri Lankan security personnel inspect the debris of a car after it exploded when police tried to defuse a bomb near St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo on Monday, April 22, 2019.Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

By Luqman Ahmed

Attacks on Sri Lanka by a radical Islamic group has resurfaced the debate surrounding Muslims and radicalization. As a Muslim Imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, I believe that reform must come from within. It starts by rejecting extreme interpretations of faith and welcoming legitimate voices of reform. We need an Islam that is viable in this age.

What should be appalling to all Muslims is that studies list many Muslim countries in the list of places where Christians are heavily persecuted.

With such conversations, the obvious must be stated. In my experience, working as an Ahmadi Muslim Imam, the overwhelming majority of Muslims do not wish any harm towards Christians and understand their faith to be compassionate towards others. They adhere to the Qur’anic teachings which calls for protecting all places of worship, including temples, Christian churches and Jewish synagogues. (Chapter 22: Verse 40)

However, it is also an undeniable reality that some extreme interpretations are also being imparted to Muslims worldwide. We know that violence and terrorism is often carried out in the name of “Jihad” or Holy War. We should reject therefore any such doctrine that calls for violence towards the innocent.

Blasphemy laws are often used to stifle free speech. Many Muslims adhere to apostasy laws that pronounce death for those who renounce the Islamic faith. Such cruelties cannot be tolerated.

When it comes to treating non-Muslim minorities, especially Christians, many Muslim countries have a lot to answer for. Banning construction of churches, arresting pastors or using blasphemy laws to persecute Christian citizens is absolutely unjust and creates an enabling environment for carrying out violence.

Muslims worldwide understand that we need real answers to these very real problems. The issue of reform is being heavily discussed in Muslim circles worldwide. Working as an Imam with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, I have participated in hundreds of such conversations.

The yearning for a peaceful, inclusive Islam can be felt throughout the Islamic world. Moving away from politicizing our faith, we need to understand that religion is a private, spiritual matter between man and God. It should never be sought to be imposed on people. In the words of the famous Islamic scholar of late 19th century and fourth Caliph of Ahmadi Muslims, Mirza Tahir Ahmad: “Swords can win territories but not hearts; force can bend heads but not minds.”

We need an Islam that calls for serving God and loving mankind, not pinning people against each other based upon their faith. We need an Islam that understands Jihad or Holy War in its proper historic context and rejects the use of violence in this age. We need an Islam that champions freedom of religion and conscience for all people and does not force anyone to abide by its values or lifestyle.

We need an Islam free of deadly apostasy and cruel blasphemy laws. And keeping in mind what has recently transpired in Sri Lanka, we need an Islam that guarantees protection of all citizens, religious minorities and their places of worship.

These are the kinds of reforms that are required in many Muslim majority countries. Fortunately, such voices can now be seen and heard throughout the Islamic world. They should be emboldened, supported and accepted.

What is helpful is that these reforms come naturally to many Muslims and in fact are supported by their faith. The majority of Muslims view their faith as a peaceful ideology that promotes coexistence and denounces religious violence or discrimination. As for those who preach radical interpretations, we need to call them out and must not let them use our faith for their own interests.

Luqman Ahmed is an Imam (religious leader) with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada. He can be reached via email luqman.ahmed@ahmadiyya.ca or Twitter @Luqman255.
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