Posts Tagged ‘ Religious Freedom ’

Study: US Muslims Don’t Want Shariah, Either

By Omar Sacirbey for The Houston Chronicle

North American Muslims are more than satisfied with the secular legal system and do not want a set of parallel courts for Islamic law, according to a new study of U.S. and Canadian Muslims by a Washington-based think tank.

The study, by University of Windsor law professor Judy Macfarlane for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, refutes critics’ claims that American Muslims want to impose Shariah, or Islamic law.

In fact, the study indicates that Muslims are just as unwilling to accept Islamic law as non-Muslims.

Macfarlane interviewed 212 Muslim Americans, including 41 imams and 70 community leaders who used aspects of Shariah in their daily lives. The other 101 interviewees were divorced Muslim men and women. About a quarter of the interviewees were from Canada, and the rest from the United States.

“Aside from formal religious observance, American Muslims relate to their Shariah responsibilities primarily through rituals of marriage and divorce,” Macfarlane wrote.

“They see these as compatible with the civil law – almost all the respondents in this study married and divorced twice, once in Islam and once in law – and will use the courts where they cannot agree outcomes, just like any other couple.”

When asked whether they thought American courts should apply Shariah to non-Muslims in the legal system, all of the respondents answered no. Just three of the 41 imams said they wanted parallel Shariah tribunals where Muslims could handle civil issues like marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

Macfarlane began her research after a Muslim group in Ontario petitioned the provincial government in 2003 to establish a separate Islamic family tribunal where Muslims could get binding legal decisions on family law issues. The Ontario government denied the request, and later that year abolished similar tribunals for Catholic and Jewish citizens that had been allowed in 1991.ˇ

The study follows a Jan. 10 decision by a federal appeals court that upheld a lower court’s ruling to overturn a 2010 Oklahoma constitutional amendment to prohibit judges from using Shariah in their deliberations.

Tennessee and Louisiana have passed similar laws, while 20 other states are considering such legislation.

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Lowe’s Errs in Muslim Ad Uproar

By Laura Berman for The Detroit News

Lowe’s used to be the home supply store for macho do-it-yourselfers who want to pick up a chain saw or a sledge hammer along with a box of garbage bags.

Now it’s steeping in a political mess, the result of acceding to the demands of a “pro-family” group — a warm-and-fuzzy sounding way to describe a group that specializes in email campaigns targeted against TV shows that treat minorities as human beings.

In this case, the target was “All-American Muslim,” The Learning Channel’s new reality show that depicts five Muslim families in Dearborn as they entertain, bicker, laugh and get married. The show’s premise — that Muslims are Americans, too — verges on the silly in its obviousness, or so most would think. But the Florida Family Association branded the show, which premiered a month ago, as “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”

The group launched its email campaign in November, then triumphed when Lowe’s — among dozens of other sponsors — disappeared from the show in subsequent episodes.

Its big beef was the lack of negative portrayals of Muslims on the show: Insufficient underwear bombers and radical clerics. The FFA wants ordinary, tooth-brushing, family-friendly Muslims “balanced” with scary, America-hating radical Muslims, apparently as a way to keep suspicion and prejudice alive.

This strikes me as un-Christian to the max. But Lowe’s bought in or, more likely, tried to gracefully bow out of the political arena by removing itself from the show’s list of sponsors.

Lowe’s next error: releasing paragraphs of corporate mumbo-jumbo, pseudo-apologies that fueled the growing uproar. Now there’s a festive holiday season cultural eruption centered on Dearborn. Dearborn’s Muslim community leaders are denouncing Lowe’s, while the Florida Family Association brags online about its successful campaign to eliminate advertisers for “All-American Muslim.”

In the FFA’s version of All-American, only “God fearing” Christians are real Americans, released from requirements to be portrayed, at least some of the time, as crucial components of the axis of evil.

This xenophobic, self-justifying bigotry is, in fact, just as American as our more widely copied ideas about equality for all and a universal right to pursue happiness. But it’s hard to believe what a persistent undercurrent conspiracy theories are in American culture.

The Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter described 50 years ago what he called “the paranoid style” in American politics, giving as an example a 1964 campaign by the John Birch society to boycott Xerox for advertising on a television show about the United Nations.

Just as American Muslims are now subjected to bigotry and suspicion, Masons and Catholics were singled out by 19th century Americans bent on protecting their country through conspiracy theories, and Japanese Americans were forced into 20th century concentration camps.

“American politics has often been an arena for angry minds,” Hofstadter wrote, describing a state of mind that flourishes in America today.

The problem isn’t only anger but, also, how fear so easily drowns out even a chain-saw-wielding corporation’s All-American supply of courage.

Pakistan, Islam & Radicalism

By Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi for The Huffington Post

I was in Kasur, a small town near Lahore, Pakistan, where the celebrated mystic poet Bulleh Shah is buried. Thousands gathered for the 254th anniversary of his death. Slogans chanted on that occasion would be branded ‘blasphemous’ by extremist organisations in Pakistan.

Neither Hindu nor Muslim,
Sacrificing pride, let us sit together.
Neither Sunni nor Shia,
Let us walk the road of peace.

Bulleh Shah penned these verses challenging religious extremism and orthodoxy that plagued Muslim society hundreds of years ago. He was exiled from his home town and, history has it, he was denied a burial in Muslim cemetery. His advice has clearly gone unheeded as my country is still yet to find peace. Not even the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah has been spared being labelled ‘the great infidel’.

Incidentally, the same ilk of religio-political parties who now manipulate public discourse were at the forefront of using religious narrative for political point scoring before Pakistan came into being.

4 January 2011 is a day I cannot forget. Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Pakistan’s biggest province Punjab, was gunned down by his bodyguard. He was killed for supporting a Christian woman accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. He was shot twenty six times.

For the entire week after the killing, I was scared. I don’t remember being in that state of mind since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. It’s not a very heartening sight to see fellow ‘educated’ countrymen glorifying a murderer and justifying his actions based on ignorant rhetoric. Scores of fan pages popped up on Facebook, many of my friends changed their profile pictures to one of the killer, Mumtaz Qadri, exalting a murderer as hero.

Very few turned out to pay homage to the slain governor in days to come, as ‘liberals’ arranged vigils in his remembrance. Yet thousands poured on to the streets to defend Mumtaz Qadri, his assassin. The media, which has been a primary tool in fanning conspiracy theories in public, had again played a pivotal role in enticing ‘religious’ emotions on this issue.

The killer of Salman Taseer had confessed proudly. The brave judge who sentenced him to death has gone into hiding and will not be re-appearing anytime soon.

7 March 2011. The start of another week of gloom and, if I’m honest, I was ashamed to be a Pakistani. We had arranged a protest to condemn the killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities who was brutally assassinated on 2 March. He was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and the only Christian in the cabinet. Only a few youngsters turned up.

When it comes to numbers, we can gather thousands but the ’cause’ has to be against India, Israel or America. Not many will show up if the demonstration is against radical organisations, or asking for introspection within.

Many who rallied for Gaza in early 2009 were not seen in protests condemning Taliban atrocities in Swat at the same time. Many who burnt down shops in anger at the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad never stood up for Parachinar, a small town near the border of Afghanistan where thousands have been killed in sectarian violence between Sunni’s and Shia’s.

9 October 2011. I was stuck on the Islamabad Highway, the main road that connects Islamabad with Rawalpindi as it was blocked by flash mobs protesting for the release of Mumtaz Qadri.

Two decades and 40,000 deaths later which includes top politicians, generals and clerics – not many things have changed when it comes to checking radicalism within Islam.

Many attacks on places of worship of minority sects within Islam, recurring violent brawls between followers of different schools of thought, reaction to the murder of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, recent acts of violence in Baluchistan and the tale of Parachinar are chapters in recent history which expose the extent of radicalisation in Pakistani society.

Soon, we as citizens of a country founded because a minority felt discriminated against and followers of the great religion of Islam, need to face up to the challenge of the radical minded and their extremist ideology.

This is a war of ideologies and is inevitably a war that must be fought with opinions and ideas; it must encourage discourse and exchange of reason. It is a war that must form the basic pillar of a new and improved national paradigm for Pakistan

We as a society cannot ignore an emerging threat from radicalism within our ranks, because if it gets too late, there might be no ‘music’ left to face.

Muslims in America: A mosque rehabilitates its image

Conversations / Live Q&A Washington Post

ABOUT THE HOST
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik serves as the director of Community Outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center. He was the first Muslim Chaplain installed at Howard University. The imam is the former chair of Government Relations for the Muslim Alliance in North America [MANA founded by Imam Siraj Wahhaj] and is the founding President of the Muslim Society of Washington, DC Inc and Associate Imam of First Hijrah Islamic Center in Washington, DC.

Known nationally for his fundraising efforts for masjids, schools and relief organizations, Imam Johari is a founding member of the Muslim Advocacy Commission of Washington, D.C. and “Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence” [MMADV] and has edited a book on”What Islam Says About Domestic Violence”.
ABOUT THE TOPIC
Dar Al-Hirjah is one of the largest mosques in America, and it can be linked to many terrorism suspects in some way. Imam Johari Abdul-Malik discussed the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque, rehabilitating the mosque’s image after 9-11, how 9-11 has affected Muslim life in America, and more.

Read: Imam serves as public face of an embattled mosque
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
Salaam-Shalom-OmShanti-Peace,

I would like to thank The Washington Post and especially William Wan and Jahi for their work on this article. I pray that it will inspire more bridge building

– September 19, 2011 11:03 AM Permalink
Q.
CHANGES IN SENSITIVITIES
What are examples of what you have heard from fellow Muslims to any changes in how they have been treated since 2001? How much of a difference has there been? How often do they find themselves in a situation where someone has said or done something offensive or hurtful?
– September 19, 2011 10:43 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
The overall experience has actually been positive. However, the negative experiences have been structural (Homeland Security, etc) but I expect that those things will change with time. I am a very positive person and I expect things to continue to only get better

– September 19, 2011 11:06 AM
Q.
AMERICAN MUSLIMS
Salaam alaykum, Imam Johari I am a devout American Muslim woman (and a convert like yourself), but after reading this, I would be terrified to attend your masjid. Instead of honoring your women, you make them go through a separate entrance in the back, for what? To protect men from seeing their wives and daughters? In the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, men and women prayed in the same space. So my question is this, how can you hope to move from simply defending your community to integrating them into the country at large? This type of isolation and anger only breeds mistrust and silently encourages the behavior of men like Aulaqi. I truly wish you luck and will pray for your community. Please believe that there is another way. My masjid in Brooklyn is nothing like this.
– September 19, 2011 10:57 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I agree with you that the architecture of the mosque is not women friendly. I am working first to change to minds of people who attend the mosque and then we have to work on reconstructing the bricks to be more women and family friendly.

– September 19, 2011 11:09 AM
Q.
SHARIA
Do you agree with sharia?
– September 19, 2011 11:02 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
Firstly, “sharia” for me, is similar to keeping kosher for Jews. I don’t believe that my beliefs or practices should be enforced on others. In short, I don’t believe that stoning or cutting off hands are what the Qur’an intended for the 21st century

– September 19, 2011 11:09 AM
Q.
PEDOPHILIA
Do you think its OK for a 53 year old man to marry a 6 year old girl? If so, why?
– September 19, 2011 11:03 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I would advise you not to do!

– September 19, 2011 11:10 AM
Q.
COEXISTENCE
What kind of outreach are you doing to local Christians and Jews?

– September 19, 2011 11:09 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
We have been working with several churches and synagogues in the DC metro area for the past decade and have built many strong relationships…

– September 19, 2011 11:13 AM
HALEY CRUM :
What’s the most common question you usually get?

– September 19, 2011 11:15 AM Permalink
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
The most common question to me is as a convert “how did you become a muslim?”.

– September 19, 2011 11:15 AM
Q.
FGM
Where do you stand on female genital mutilation?
– September 19, 2011 11:05 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
FGM: Is not a practice of Islam and although many cultures before Islam practiced it and this unislamic practice continues. I am working with relief organizations and interfaith organizations to end this horrible pracitice.

– September 19, 2011 11:15 AM
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I wanted to mention here that it is my hope that terms such as “non-Muslim” and “Muslim World” will cease to be used as I see those terms as divisive. I always make it a point to correct anyone that I hear use these terms. I prefer “people of other faiths/traditions” when speaking of those that do not share my faith

– September 19, 2011 11:21 AM Permalink
Q.
AMERICAN MUSLIMS
But how do we change hearts and minds? Especially in a climate that seems to have grown more hostile to us? It’s difficult to tell other Muslims, especially conservative immigrants that they should embrace change and their new country when we’re being told we can’t build mosques. Park51 (aka the supposed Ground Zero mosque) is the perfect example. We worked so hard and against so much opposition for this place. Yet when I attended services a couple Fridays ago, a community member began berating a young Muslim woman for leading two male journalists in for both being uncovered and talking to a man. It’s humiliating.
– September 19, 2011 11:17 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I have learned so much from the examples of great people and the prophet Muhammad and Jesus (peace be upon them). We have to increase our efforts for the positive, try to understand the other. New immigrants have their baggage as everyone does. Dr. King said, ‘Let us overcome them with our capacity’ to love

– September 19, 2011 11:30 AM
HALEY CRUM :
What has the Muslim community done for America lately – is America a better place because of Muslims? – rickdumbronski

– September 19, 2011 11:30 AM Permalink
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
First of all, there is single “Muslim community”. There are many different “communities” of Muslims with many diverse ethnic groups and sects. Secondly, there are Muslims in the US Armed Services and working within Homeland Security (including the FBI) that are serving their country with honor. Thirdly, there are many Muslim civilians that are working with law enforcement and are the very key to keeping us safe from terror plots. Without the help of Muslims, it would be much more difficult to fight terror

– September 19, 2011 11:30 AM
Q.
HOW TO COMBAT SHARIA STEREOTYPES?
I’m a humanistic Jew, and while I do not practice traditional Jewish law, I’m well versed in them. I personally don’t see a difference between Sharia and the Talmudic laws that also dictate not just keeping kosher, but divorces, shabbat, how, when, and where to pray, conversions, and all other sorts of elements of daily life. There are orthodox rabbinic courts, Beit Dins, that are sometimes used as alternative dispute resolution mechanisms instead of regular secular courts. The Catholic Church has ecclesiastical courts that gives annulments and hears other similar sorts of cases. How can we better express that Sharia is no different from the rules and institutions of other systems?
– September 19, 2011 11:21 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
You are right on brother! We all need to speak this truth from the hill tops. Criminal law needs to stay in the hands of law enforcement.

– September 19, 2011 11:32 AM
Q.
THE ETHICS OF A FAIR FIGHT
Salam dear brother. Islam, as a way of life, prescribes an appropriate way to deal with oppression and systemic injustice. While it was recently reported that Muslims in the U.S. are less likely to justify attacks on civilians (Source – http://www.gallup.com/poll/148763/Muslim-Americans-No-Justification-Violence.aspx) than other groups, there are specific limits on what is acceptable when engaging against an oppressive military, even in self defense. Could you provide an example of a just war, at level of a country, based in what Islam teaches us? Could you provide an example that could apply to daily life at an individual level? Salam!
– September 19, 2011 11:28 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
The “just war” theory seems to have only been applied to justify war. As they say, “war is hell”.

– September 19, 2011 11:37 AM
Q.
SHOUDLN’T YOU LEAVE THE COUNTRY?
In view of the past associations like Awlawki and the obvious distrust with which you and your mosque are held, don’t you think it is time you moved to a country like Pakistan or Yemen where you would find a more positive response to your preachings? Face the facts you don’t really fit in here.
– September 19, 2011 11:29 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I take great issue with the hate speech of Anwar Awlawki.

I’m from Brooklyn, NY. I am the decendent of enslaved Africans – I have every right to live in my own country. The first amendment affords me the right and responsibility to practice my faith alone with my fellow Americans.

– September 19, 2011 11:37 AM
Q.
TRUST
Mosques are places of public worship. What is wrong with the FBI monitoring places of interest in these times of distrust and international Islamic terrorism? Muslims in the West must accept a reasonable amount of observation given the facts. Muslims rooting out and identifying the dangerous extremists amongst them is not an unreasonable expectation of the non-Muslim citizenry. Trust has to be built by both sides. – Cretius

– September 19, 2011 11:19 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
I agree that trust works both ways. My issue is the engagement with the leadership of the mosque as a partnership. I have worked with law enforcement on many cases but they only come to me after the fact. There have been instances where had they been a partner early on perhaps our security as a nation could be better secured. I like president Obamas new a approach – “Empowering Local Partners to prevent violentextremism in the US” . We are safer when we work together.

– September 19, 2011 11:37 AM
Q.
MUSLIME IN THE WEST
Many Muslims who came in an earlier age, assimilated well — but the new iimmigrnts refuse to assimilate but continue to wear Muslim dress, demand we set aside muslim holidays in our schools etc. don’t you think these muslims would be better off staying in a country which is predominately muslim.?
– September 19, 2011 11:37 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
The question remains: Is American the great melting pot or the mulligan stew.

In the melting pot – all of the ingredients get boiled down.

I believe that what makes the great dish are the spices of every culture that adds to the favors of America, while still being able to identify the fruits.

– September 19, 2011 11:42 AM
Q.
ON TO THE NEXT
Do you think people view Muslims as “the enemy” now and will move on to another religion/ culture when the next big attack happens from another group? Is this a vicious cycle?

– September 19, 2011 11:40 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
While Islam is the issue of time, we should not be in denial about the violence that is besieging our societies. All ideologies that promote violence as a mechanism for social change are dangerous whether they are so-called Muslims, White Supremist or drug cartels….non-violent resistance for social change must become the new revolution.

– September 19, 2011 11:46 AM
Q.
PART OF THE PROBLEM.
Don’t you think that your and your mosque are part of the problem and not part of the solutions? After all when you see the number of terrorists who have passed through your mosque, how can you not see yourself as part of the problem?
– September 19, 2011 11:45 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
knowledge is power! I think the article addresses this issue well. I believe that my work is to counter-radicalization.

– September 19, 2011 11:52 AM
Q.
AMERICAN A MELTING POT FOR WESTERN EUROPE
The American melting pot, a description beloved of so many who know no history, forget that that melting was for people from W. Europe who came from similar backgrounds as Americans. The melting pot image lack veracity when you include non Westeners in the picture – it is they who have created the problem and ripped appart the melting pot immage.

– September 19, 2011 11:48 AM Permalink
A.
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
With the melting pot only being for W Europeans, you are forgetting that there were slaves that were brought here from Africa 400 years ago. What is to happen to their decendents? We must work together -ALL OF US – and build bridges and not fantasize about an all white country that will never happen

– September 19, 2011 11:55 AM
IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK :
This has been a wonderful conversation and only increases the need for more dialogue and understanding. I would like to thank the Post for this wonderful medium of exchange – The On-Line Chat. Please share your experience with you friends and family –

‘You have been created into tribes and nations that you might know each other..verily the best among you are those who have faith and good deeds’-Quran

Park 51 Photo Exhibit Features American Children From All Over The World

BY Jessica Jenkins for Groundswell

NYChildren, a new photo exhibit at the Park51 community center in downtown Manhattan highlights the diversity of American identity by featuring New York City children from all parts of the world. A slideshow in the New York Times highlights a dozen portraits from the NYChildren exhibit. The photographer, Danny Goldfield, says he was inspired by a 2004 encounter with the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh man who was murdered at his Mesa, Arizona gas station on September 15, 2001. That encounter led Mr. Goldstein to think about what constitutes American identity, and his project to photograph a child from each country of the world. So far Mr. Goldstein has photographed children from 171 different countries, all living in New York City.

It’s been a year since the Park51 community center was besieged by Islamophobic attacks from across the nation for its proximity to Ground Zero. Park51 has since scaled back its plans to build a new community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan but nevertheless has continued to offer events and faith services to the local community in its existing building. On its website, Park51 says about the exhibition: “We live in a world with far too much fear and misunderstanding. This exhibition is about finding the courage to meet and get to know neighbors to build trust and friendship.” We can’t think of a better way to set a tone of resilience, tolerance and hope.

In Ahmadis’s Desert City, Pakistan Closes In

By Myra MacDonald for Reuters

At the office of what claims to be one of Pakistan’s oldest newspapers, workers scan copy for words it is not allowed to use — words like Muslim and Islam.

“The government is constantly monitoring this publication to make sure none of these words are published,” explains our guide during a visit to the offices of al Fazl, the newspaper of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan.

This is Rabwah, the town the Ahmadis built when they fled the killings of Muslims in India at Partition in 1947, and believing themselves guided by God, chose a barren stretch of land where they hoped to make the Punjab desert bloom.

Affluent and well-educated, they started out camping in tents and mud huts near the river and the railway line.

Now they have a town of some 60,000 people, a jumble of one- and two-storey buildings, along with an Olympic size swimming pool, a fire service and a world class heart institute.

Yet declared by the state in the 1970s to be non-Muslims, they face increasing threats of violence across Pakistan as the country strained by a weakening economy, an Islamist insurgency and internecine political feuds, fractures down sectarian and ethnic lines.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” says Mirza Khurshid Ahmed, amir of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. “The level of religious intolerance has increased considerably during the last 10 years.”

The town, renamed Chenabnagar by the state government since “Rabwah” comes from a verse in the Koran, is now retreating behind high walls and razor wire, awaiting the suicide bombers and fedayeen gunmen who police tell them are plotting attacks.

Last May, 86 people were killed in two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, capital of Punjab; others were attacked elsewhere in the province. Many fled to Rabwah where the community gives them cheap housing and financial support.

Among them is 15-year-old Iqra from Narewal, whose shopkeeper father was stabbed to death last year as the family slept. “I was sleeping in another room when my father was attacked,” she begins in a small voice, pulling a black scarf across her face to cover her mouth in the style of Ahmadi women.

“The attacker wanted to kill all the Ahmadis in Narewal,” her brother Zeeshan continues. “My elder brother tried to help my father and he was stabbed and wounded too.”

Later police found the attacker hiding in a mosque. He had believed the mullahs when they told him that all Ahmadis were “wajib ul qatl”, or deserving of death.

BATTLEGROUND FOR POWER
The Ahmadis follow the teachings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who in the town of Qadian in late 19th century British India called for a revival of a “true Islam” of peace and justice. His teachings were controversial with Muslims and Christians alike.

He argued that Jesus did not die on the cross but escaped and travelled to India and was buried in Kashmir. And he claimed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus, destined to put Muslims back on the true path.

Many Muslims were offended by the suggestion he had come as a prophet, breaching a basic tenet of Islam that there can be no prophet after Mohammad, whose teachings are believed to be based literally on the word of God, perfect and therefore final.

Yet his call for peace, hard work, temperance, education and strong community bonds resonated, and over the years the proselytizing movement acquired millions of followers worldwide.

At home, however, their history has been intimately bound up in Pakistan’s own descent from its relatively optimistic birth.

Lacking a coherent national identity, it has become a battleground for competing political, religious and ethnic groups seeking power by attacking others.

“The mistake of the Ahmadis was that they showed their political strength,” said an Ahmadi businessman in Lahore.

Better education he said, meant they obtained good positions in the army and civil service at first; strong community bonds made them an influential force in politics up to the 1970s.

But they also made an easy target for the religious right who could whip up anti-Ahmadi sentiment for political gain.

Ahmadis follow two different schools of thinking, but will argue, often with detailed references to the Koran in both Arabic and English, that they do not dispute the finality of the Prophet Mohammad. Their erudite theological arguments, however, had little chance against the power of the street.

After anti-Ahmadi violence, they were declared non-Muslims in 1974. In the 1980s, their humiliation was completed when legal provisions barred them from associating themselves with Islam, for example by using the call to prayer or naming their place of worship a “masjid” or mosque.

“You can say you don’t consider me to be a Muslim but you can’t force me to also say I am not a Muslim,” complains Ahmed, the amir, the pain clear in his voice.

Yet in the newspaper office in Rabwah, a white board displays the words they are not allowed to use — they could be accused of blasphemy, which carries the death penalty.

SPREADING TO OTHER SECTS
Many Pakistanis, if you ask about treatment of the Ahmadis, shrug it off — it’s an old story, they say, dredged up by westerners who do not appreciate the importance of the finality of the Prophet.

Yet there are signs the attitudes first directed toward Ahmadis are spreading to other sects. In a country which is majority Sunni, and where insurgents follow Sunni Islam, Shi’ites and even Sufi shrines have been bombed.

A 2010 study by Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa of students in elite colleges found that while 60 percent said the government was right to declare Ahmadis non-Muslims, a sizeable 18 percent believed Shi’ites were also non-Muslims.

These and other findings led her to conclude that radicalism was growing even among the educated youth — it is often, wrongly, blamed on poverty — which in its extreme form could lead people into violence.

Their tendency, she wrote, to see different groups with an unquestioned bias, she wrote, “especially coated with religious overtones or padded with religious belief prepares the mind to accept the message from militant organizations.”

In the nearest town to Rabwah, the central square as been renamed “Khatme Nubuwwat” Chowk, meaning the finality of the Prophet. Beyond, low jagged hills spike up above the dusty land, the summits of much bigger rock formations below the surface.

Many of the Ahmadis had been active supporters of the movement which created Pakistan and when they first came here they were inspired by a verse in the Koran, describing “an elevated land of green valleys and springs of running water.”

Now they are surrounded by a very different country.

Rabwah itself is open to the outside world — despite the high walls guarding individual houses, it is not a walled town.

“Under the circumstances we try to take the best measures we can to protect ourselves,” says the amir. “But what we can do is very limited. We don’t have a mindset or training for that.

And in any case, he adds, “How many people can leave Pakistan or Rabwah?”

In This Country, Religious Freedom Is Real

By Imran Hayee for The StarTribune

My childhood memories of celebrating Independence Day are no different than those of my fellow citizens — except that it was on Aug. 14th instead of July 4th.

I grew up in Pakistan, which obtained its independence from British rule on Aug. 14, 1947.

As a child, I marked Independence Day year after year without having a clue about what independence really meant. As I grew older, I read from a speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, which he had delivered immediately after the nation’s independence was announced.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples,” he said. “You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

This was Jinnah’s dream, the founding principle behind the independence of Pakistan as he himself stated in the same landmark speech: “We are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. We should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in due course, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

Growing up in Pakistan, as a Muslim, I never saw Jinnah’s dream materializing. The constitution of Pakistan defines who is a Muslim — any “impersonator” is subject to imprisonment or death. Temples, churches and mosques not ascribing to a single distorted version of Islam are routinely attacked.

What caused the secular ideology of Jinnah to take this U-turn?

Soon after the nation’s creation in 1947, and Jinnah’s demise a year later, Pakistan’s rulers succumbed to the demands of religious extremists who wanted to convert Pakistan into a puritanical fundamentalist state.

Gradually, the monster of religious fundamentalism grew large enough to devour Jinnah’s philosophy of spreading freedom and equality.

I never experienced independence until I came to America 18 years ago. For the first time — when Independence Day was being celebrated on July 4th instead of Aug. 14th — I wanted to rejoice once again.

I was unaware of the history behind America’s Independence Day, but still, I saw freedom and equality prevail all around me. I could freely go to my mosque without having to fear the state’s interference.

As I learned more about the history behind July 4th, it reminded me of the same philosophy of freedom and equality that Jinnah dreamed for Pakistan. What made the difference in America was that its rulers never succumbed to extremists’ demands.

Rather, its forefathers risked their wealth and lives to uphold the principles of freedom and equality. Their sacrifices paved the way for a Muslim like me to emigrate from a Muslim country and practice Islam the way I wanted to but could not do in the country of my birth.

More recently, while some European countries have banned building minarets on mosques and the wearing of veils by Muslim women, U.S. courts have struck down any such attempted restrictions as unconstitutional.

Addressing the Muslim world in Cairo, President Obama proudly announced, “Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”

As a Muslim-American, I feel proud and honored to be in America and find many reasons to celebrate Independence Day on July 4th. Among others, let me add that the founding principles of America’s Constitution are in perfect harmony with the Qur’an.

The Qur’an (2:257) proclaims, “There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, the right way has become distinct from error.” It further declares fundamental human equality: “O mankind, We have created you from male and female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another” (Qur’an 49:14).

These golden principles of freedom and equality have been implemented — in America. In fact, I find the American Constitution to be more Islamic than the constitution of Pakistan or of any other Muslim country in the world today.

Imran Hayee is a professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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