Of Sacred and Secular
Religious groups and sects that I rarely ever see and, therefore, never write about exist just out of my comfort zone. I realized that this week when thinking about Gaza and the flotilla and also, while visiting the Bait-ul-Muqeet Mosque for Friday prayers yesterday.
I’ve been reading Stephen Prothero’s latest book “God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run The World And Why Their Differences Matter.” So far, it’s been a great read and a helpful primer on religious differences. I’ve just gotten to the chapter on Islam, and when I read this passage, it rang true, at least for me:
Is Islam a religion of terror? Are Christianity and Islam now engaged in a clash of civilizations? Or do Muslims stand peaceably alongside Jews and Christians as siblings in one tripartite family of religions?
Unfortunately, this crucial conversation rarely advances beyond a ping-pong match of clichÃ©s in which some claim that Islam is a religion of peace while others claim that Islam is a religion of war. One side ignores Quranic passages and Islamic traditions that have been used to justify war on unbelievers, while the other ignores Islam’s just-war injunctions against killing women, children, civilians and fellow Muslims (hundreds of whom died in the Twin Towers on 9/11). The reason for all this ignoring is our collective ignorance. We are incapable of reckoning with Islam because we know almost nothing about it.
I told Aziza Faruqi, a member of Austin’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community, something similar to the above passage yesterday. She wrote on Monday to invite me to Friday prayers at the Round Rock mosque. There, Ahmadis were still mourning nearly 100 members of their community killed in attacks on two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan on May 28.
The Ahmadi Community is religious minority group within Islam that believes in a messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who came after the Prophet Muhammad, a fact that separates them from most Muslims. While it is believed that Prophet Muhammad died in 632, the Ahmadis believed their prophet died in 1908. As a result, the minority sect has been persecuted and discriminated against for decades in India and Pakistan, where there are more than 2 million adherents (in America, there are more than 4,000, according to adherents.com).
“We are a small Muslim sect which is persecuted in Pakistan and some other Muslim countries because we believe in the Messiah,” Faruqi said. “We are a peaceful and progressive-minded community with a motto, ‘Love for all, Hatred for none.’”
Faruqi and others that I talked to at the Round Rock mosque believe this is why those killed during Friday prayers in Lahore were targeted, because the Muslim extremists who wanted to send a message knew the Ahmadiyya community would be unarmed. So, Muslims sprayed bullets from their AK-47s from a top a minaret, blew themselves up inside the mosque and killed 94 people.
Maqbool Ahmad told me on Friday that in 1984, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws declared Ahmadis non-Muslims and that it is illegal for Ahmadis to declare themselves Muslim in Pakistan. Those laws protect the perpetrators of crimes like the mosque attacks he said, “because they are protected under the law.”
Even while recounting the bias against Muslims in Pakistan, Ahmad and Iftikhar Naghmi, said that the community here would remain true to the convictions of their faith and pray for their lost loved ones, who they now consider martyrs. They said they would not consider retaliation, which is a contradiction of their faith. “Our youth group will donate blood soon,” Naghmi said, noting that the biggest need in the aftermath of the attacks was blood donation because so much had been shed.
The women in the community echoed that same resolve, as leaders and laypeople alike said prayers asking for strength and understanding in the face of such loss and sadness. Husna Ahmad, 41, lost a first cousin in the attacks. “Our community is like one body so that if one part of the body hurts, we all hurt,” Ahmad said. “The fanatics, they don’t know the Quran. They talk against us and say we deserve death, but all religions are good if they are practiced in their original way.”