Learning from the 'Wrong Kind of Muslim'

Posted: September 05, 2014

IMAGINE IT IS Sunday, the day a law takes effect stripping American Catholics of their rights.

Such a law disenfranchised German Jews in 1935.

Fewer than 40 years after the Nazis did it, Pakistan disenfranchised its Ahmadi Muslim Community. This Sunday is the 40th anniversary of that tragedy for human rights.

When it was carved from India in 1947, Pakistan was to be a safe haven for Muslims, a democracy with freedom of worship. How ironic that in 1974 it declared Ahmadis - with 30 million peaceful followers in 206 countries - to be non-Muslim, heretics. That opened the gates to state-ignored persecution, pillage, rape and murder that continues to this day.

Don't blame yourself for not knowing this. Pakistani-American Qasim Rashid didn't fully understand it until he visited the land of his birth. An Ahmadi himself, he learned he is "The Wrong Kind of Muslim," the title of a book he wrote after his return, detailing and mourning Pakistan's descent into the hell of religious hatred.

The 32-year-old lawyer told me that before his 2005 visit, he was aware of the persecution, but not its extent.

Sunni and Shia Muslims, which both revere the Prophet Muhammad, are at each other's throats because of a split in Islam after Muhammad's death. Because the Ahmadi follow not only Muhammad but also the 19th-century teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, they are hated by both Sunni and Shia.

Before interviewing Rashid, I read his book, recommended to me by Rafiyq Friend, a Philadelphia Ahmadi who "adopted" me a couple of years ago with the idea of familiarizing me with the variety and complexity of Islam.

Through conversations with Friend and independent research, I believe the Ahmadi are a shining hope for a tolerant and modern Islam.

Through Rashid's book, written in an easy American lingo (Rashid arrived in the States at age 4 and speaks without an accent), I learned the hard lessons of a repressive Pakistan - America's frenemy - that targets the Ahmadi at the urging of violent, fundamentalist mullahs. Why? Mostly because of their religious beliefs but, I believe, also because the Ahmadi don't fight back. They are dedicated to nonviolence.

During Rashid's visit, he was threatened by both police and extremist mobs, as much for being American as for being Ahamdi. He could hardly believe the hatred because he grew up inside an "American bubble" where such religious enmity is largely past tense.

The Wrong Kind of Muslim contains some scenes of barbaric torture surpassing what we've seen in recent headlines. I won't take you there.

The Ahamdi are so conflict-averse, I tell Rashid, I think of them as Muslim Quakers.

"There are a lot of parallels between the two," he says, adding there are various places where Ahamdi beliefs touch scripture.

In an early anecdote in the book, after Rashid has beaten up a bully in the fifth grade, his father admonishes him, "Never with our fists." Always "try to win his heart." Rashid teaches the same to his two sons.

Does this work when your foe is heartless?

He says "heartless" is broad and subjective. I challenge him by referencing ISIS, knowing the Ahmadi reject terrorism. He cites the teaching of Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who is the leader of the Ahmadi community, the world's largest group of Muslims under one imam.

His leader teaches not to resort to war as a first step and to "establish justice on a personal, national and international level, and separate religion and state."

Even when you are persecuted, as in Pakistan and elsewhere?

"We remain steadfast in our faith, trust in God and are servants to humanity regardless of color, faith or creed," he says. "It doesn't matter how people treat us, our responsibility remains the same."

Those beautiful words tell me Rashid is the Right Kind of Muslim.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Blog: ph.ly/Byko

Columns: ph.ly/StuBykofsky

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