Liwa-e-ahmadiyya

The Liwa-e-Ahmadiyya is the flag of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Credit: Creative Commons / Ceddyfresse

During my second year of college in New Jersey, another Muslim student stopped me in a hallway and said  Ahmadis can never be Muslims. He told me if he had his way, he would make sure everyone converted to the ‘true’ Islam.

For those unaware, the members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are persecuted in different parts of the Islamic world for their beliefs. Many clerics in Islamic nations believe that Ahmadi Muslims are a threat to their brand of Islam because millions have joined the Community since its inception in 1889.

In countries like Pakistan, where I am from, Ahmadis face government sanctioned persecution because the government itself declared them non-Muslims in 1974. Hundreds of Ahmadi Muslims have been targeted and killed because of this state-sponsored persecution.

This is why when the Muslim student followed me to the student newspaper office where I worked as the Editor-in-Chief, I feared for my life. The way he questioned me about my beliefs was menacing to say the least. I felt as if I would have to renounce my faith before he would leave me alone. The coldness in his eyes frightened me so much that I reported him to the campus police.

A year or two later, the FBI showed up at the doorstep of my apartment in New Jersey. They wanted to know what had happened between me and the student. I found out that he was caught trying to join Al-Shabab—a terrorist organization in Somalia.

In his mind, I was not a Muslim. Unfortunately, this perception is all too common in Muslim countries. Recently, I wrote an article about the plight of Ahmadi Muslims after a religious talk-show in Pakistan aired inflammatory remarks last month  about my Community on live television. Few days after the show, another Ahmadi Muslim was gunned down in eastern Pakistan.

One of the people who commented on my article said everyone should keep in mind that Ahmadis are not Muslim and anyone who considers their religion part of Islam can be killed by a ‘true’ Muslim. While the student at my college never made an outright threat to my life, this stranger on Facebook directly implied that calling myself a Muslim could result in death.

There were other comments as well. One person claimed that equating Ahmadis to Muslims is propaganda against Pakistan. The statement defies any sense of logic, but it does shed light on the dark mindsets of some Pakistanis. This ignorance stems from clerics who incite people against religious minorities and get away with it because the government protects them. Many segments of the Pakistani population embrace the notion that Ahmadis are not Muslim and the government has the right to sanction them. This mindset has become so ingrained in some people that they don’t even question the government’s involvement in a deeply personal matter.

Unfortunately, this is becoming a common occurrence in many Muslim countries. Recently, a reporter in Indonesia was summoned to court under a blasphemy law because he published an anti-ISIS cartoon. This is not only an attack on freedom of expression, but also freedom of conscience. Religious minorities in countries like Pakistan and Indonesia are living suffocating lives. Attacks on their places of worships and homes have claimed lives of many innocent people. The blasphemy laws have become a source of venomous animosity, which attack the inherent right of every human being to practice his or her faith without any danger or threat.

The idea that someone else can decide your faith for you is so absurd and bizarre that many in the Western world cannot even grasp it. When I tell my American friends that the members of my Community are facing persecution because they believe they are Muslim, many respond with utter confusion. But when they hear about the student who was caught trying to join the Al-Shabab, they recognize the dangers of extreme ideologies even if they can’t relate it to it personally.

Extremists fail to recognize a very basic truth about human nature: No one can erase faith or an idea from a person’s heart by using force. By their very nature, humans are independent thinkers and more intelligent than any other species on Earth. Anyone with a shred of common sense knows that hearts cannot be controlled. The fourth caliph of my Community, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, put it beautifully: “Swords can win territories but not hearts; forces can bend heads but not minds.”

I want to ask the clerics and the governments what they have achieved by trying to repress freedom of thought in Pakistan and other countries. Have Christians stopped being Christians? Have Ahmadis started renouncing their faith? These religious minorities in Islamic nations might not practice their religion openly, but their faith is a very personal matter between them and their Creator. No government or a cleric can crush this bond. Faith is found in the heart and those without hearts can never understand it.


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