[Huffington Post] How Pakistan Drifted Away from Itself

With the partition of the Indian subcontinent, the Dominion of Pakistan came into existence on Aug. 14, 1947. The valiant and astute Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the minority Muslim community of United India to the fulfillment of its dream for a separate homeland. The basis for the very demand of independence was the upholding of the freedom of religion, profession and speech.

Jinnah was an outstanding lawyer who had studied law in London. He had a modern outlook on the world and was strongly secular. “No subject … in Pakistan shall, on grounds only of religion, place of birth, descent, color or any of them be ineligible for office,” read part of the oath under which he took office. He was absolutely clear that the new state he was founding would accommodate people of all faiths and descents without any prejudice. To assert this point, he appointed a non-Muslim as his first law minister. The Muslims in his cabinet consisted of Sunni, Shia and Ahmadis alike. He believed that Islam endorsed a secular democracy and the two were perfectly compatible.

“The great majority of us are Muslims. Consequently, we have a special and a very deep sense of unity. But make no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it,” he said in an address in 1948.

He believed in a Pakistan wherein the Mosque would be separate from the State. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State,” he said.

In the struggle for Pakistan, Jinnah was not faced with the Indian Congress and the British alone. He also had to endure intense animosity from hard-line Muslim clerics and counter their vile propaganda. He was accused by the ultra right wing of blasphemy, and they considered him a “great heretic” for his secular ideology. Prominent clerics like Maulana Maududi urged common Muslims not to side with Jinnah. Maududi wrote, “It is forbidden to vote for [Jinnah’s] Muslim League.” Despite this, the resolute Jinnah was successful in garnering support from the masses in most Muslim-majority areas.

Today, as the nation celebrates its 64th birthday, it finds it hard to uphold the very ideals it was founded on. As it passes through dangerously volatile times, it has forsaken its founding principles of freedom and secularism. But how and why did Pakistan turn against itself?

Even though he tried his best to steer it toward a secular democracy, Jinnah did not live long enough to see it become one. Over the coming years, Pakistan took a very troubling turn. In a matter of nine years, it became an “Islamic Republic,” and in a little over two decades, it had essentially became a theocracy.

The same extremist clerics who had opposed Jinnah and his struggle for Pakistan gradually claimed ownership of the State. They formed into political groups that used religion to amass public support. Their demonstrations of street power, frequently violent, meant that sectarian hatred and intolerance was the order of the day. Even governments avoided a clash with the radical right and became increasingly weary of arousing any negative religious sentiment and consequently losing popular vote. This only furthered the extremist cause, and in time, the original path Pakistan started on was completely forsaken. Pakistan, it was now said, was formed for the Muslims and was meant to become an Islamic theocracy where the Shariah, as interpreted by the hard-liners, would be the ultimate law.

One tragedy after another, Jinnah’s Pakistan was dealt with massive blows. His Pakistan was no more his. It had been hijacked by forces of extremism and intolerance.

No non-Muslim could hold the highest offices in any of the core institutions anymore. In 1953, there were widespread riots against the Ahmadi Muslims, a sect that extremists considered heretics. The harassment of Shia Muslims and other minority groups also increased and went largely unchecked. In 1974, the government yielded to intense pressure and declared the Ahmadiyya sect non-Muslim. Tout de suite, the State had taken authority to decide its people’s religion, and the two were no longer separate.

General Zia ul Haq took over the country and became its third military president in 1977. To legitimize his dictatorship, he sought to please the right wing and set to “Islamize” Pakistan. Amongst other things, he introduced the controversial blasphemy laws that stated death as the punishment for any derogatory remark against the Quran, Prophet Muhammad and other Islamic holy personages. For Ahmadis, he also promulgated an ordinance in 1984 that criminalized the practice of their faith. Zia’s rule was the toughest for citizens who did not adhere to what had now become the State-backed perversion of Islam. Jinnah’s secular Pakistan had drifted into the hands of his enemies.

Jinnah had warned of this in his Aug. 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. He said, “As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days.” He continued, “Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.”

In the same address, he said, “My guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality, and I am sure that with your support and cooperation, I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world.”

Jinnah knew that a secular form of government could bridge differences and bring together people of all faiths and backgrounds to build a strong Pakistan. Just as the Catholics had learned to live with the Protestants, he was optimistic that the Pakistan he was founding would be a successful nation, a beacon of tolerance and an example of “unity in diversity.” However, the men who opposed Jinnah’s ideals before partition stood in his way yet again.

Founded on freedom of religion and practice, Pakistan is one of the biggest violator of religious freedom today. For Pakistan to succeed, it will have to reverse the dangerous turn it took and get back on the path that Jinnah laid before it. The blasphemy laws must be amended, everyone must be equal citizen of the state, the anti-Ahmadi laws must be revisited and State must remain separate from the Mosque at every cost. Pakistan must educate itself and look for the unity that Jinnah so cherished in the diversity across the land. In February 1948, Jinnah said in an address, “You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of manhood in your own native soil. With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve.”

Unfortunately, recent events have shown that Pakistan is still far away from taking that vital turn. The government has shown little resolve to go after the perpetrators of religious hate and violence and definitely no will to even trigger a dialogue on the controversial laws of the land. With Pakistan headed toward a steep decline, the solution lies in bold courage and reform — and quick. Jinnah’s Pakistanis will have to wake up sooner than later and reclaim the land from his opponents. Pakistanis must cause a rebirth of Pakistan — Jinnah’s Pakistan.


Original Post on Huffington Post Here       Follow Kashif N. Chaudhry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KashifMD


[Newsline] Aamir Liaquat, Saint or Hypocrite?

“Everyone knows it is a world of technology. They have manipulated and tempered [sic] few clips and dubbed the abusive worlds [sic] in my voice,” tweeted Dr Aamir Liaquat in the aftermath of the recent video scandal (see the video below) that quickly went viral this past weekend. The video consists of several unflattering clips of the TV personality filming his show and reveals what many believe is Liaquat’s “true face.”

Dr Aamir Liaquat’s official bio states that he is a renowned Islamic scholar, the executive director of television channel ARY Digital and the managing director of its Islamic channel, QTV. He was the host of “Aalim Online” on GEO TV and currently hosts a religious show on ARY. Drama is not new to Liaquat. He has been at the centre of multiple controversies, from getting a PhD in 20 days to arousing sectarian strife – including, but not limited to, a statement that led to the killing of three prominent Ahmadis in 2008 and involved abusive language targeted at Islamic holy personages.

In the newly surfaced video, the publicly modest-looking Islamic scholar can be seen using abusive and derisive language in recorded outtakes of his programme. He is shown swearing, casually and routinely letting off the vernacular for “mother fu**er”, “pimp” and “sister fu**er,” etc., during conversations. The “Aalim” also appears to be big on Bollywood, for which he has quite a varied taste (“Ghalib movie dekhi hai?”). In one clip, he tries to remember a certain actor from a movie song who he says is notorious for rape scenes.

The video gets particularly opprobrious and the histrionic Liaquat appears to take a deeper plunge into his sea of disgust when he shows cold insensitivity to a female caller’s question on “rape and suicide.” Anyone having the slightest bit of dignity and shame wouldn’t burst into a guffaw like that. The video also confirms that at least some calls in his former GEO programme were planted.

Liaquat has claimed that the tape is doctored, and he is frantically pointing fingers in every direction. He initially blamed his previous employer (GEO TV), then said it was a conspiracy by those who did not want him to “spread the true essence of Islam in Ramazan,” and has lately also implicated groups that he said were against the finality of prophethood. But what most people are thinking about is not blame: it is whether, other than Liaquat’s confused berserk behaviour, there is any evidence the tape is genuine.

As soon as the video surfaced on YouTube, it was removed by GEO TV, who stating copyright claims. Quick they were, but late by modern standards. The video had been downloaded and was re-uploaded a gazillion times to multiple video-hosting sites. Interestingly, GEO kept pulling down the videos one after another in a hurried frenzy.

They failed, but, in the process, furnished strong proof of the video’s authenticity. The tape’s credibility was further improved when the Aalim later verified that the clips were indeed taken from GEO’s archives. If it was truly GEO that had planned Liaquat’s defamation, the hot pursuit of the videos was indeed smartly scripted.

Continue Reading on Newsline

[Newsline] Caged Ahmedi Refugees Fear Returning to Pakistan

It is no secret that Ahmedis in Pakistan are treated worse than animals, the latter at least having the freedom to bark, meow, chirp the way they choose to. Even when caged, pets are generally loved and cared for. Ahmedis on the other hand receive hatred and indifference from a large segment of Pakistani society. On the one hand, the Mullah brigade has disseminated venom against Ahmedis nationwide (and abroad), while on the other, the state supports this bigotry by criminalising the very existence of Ahmedis through laws that can best be described as discriminatory and cruel.

Since Ahmedis have been declared ‘Wajib-ul-Qatl’ (deserving of death) by numerous influential extremist groups, they are threatened on a regular basis by extremists living in our neighbourhoods. Ahmedi businesses are forcibly closed down, children harassed and homes attacked. False cases are registered, and with many interested in the prospect of hoors, false witnesses are readily available. Section 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code prohibits Ahmedis from calling themselves Muslim or act “in any manner whatsoever that outrages the religious feelings of Muslims.” This includes saying the Azaan, calling the Ahmedi place of worship a “mosque,” saying the greeting of peace, aka Salaam, reciting the Quran in public, or saying the Kalima. How these acts cause pain to the feelings of “constitutional” Muslims is beyond me, and how not saying any of this brings solace remains an even bigger enigma. Faced with such bitter two-sided damnation, what would a sane Ahmedi do, if not leave the country?

Was the very pretext for Pakistan’s existence not the preservation of religious freedom? Would it therefore not be befitting of Ahmedis to campaign for a separate state on the same grounds? But since this would cause chaos and unrest in the land they call home, Pakistani Ahmedis patiently pray and continue to hope for better days. However, when persecution becomes overbearing for some, they are forced to resort to emigration, which is the Quran’s prescribed way to escape religious persecution(4:98).

Continue Reading on Newsline

[Newsline] A Tale of Two Murders: Searching for Equal Justice

It is the responsibility of a country’s judiciary to provide “equal justice under law” to every single citizen of the state without difference. Without an independent and honest judiciary, all the rights guaranteed to citizens under the Constitution of Pakistan become worthless – mere words on paper. Pakistan’s constitution does guarantee equal rights to (almost) all its citizens but are these nugatory words or worthwhile promises? Here, we look at two recent scenarios to examine the country’s judicial system for the answer. This is a tale of two murders.

In January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most influential province, was gunned down in Islamabad by a member of his own security team. The killer, Mumtaz Qadri, carried out the despicable attack in broad daylight. He confessed to the act and expressed pride in it. Hours into the killing, Qadri was elevated to sainthood and hundreds of rallies comprising thousands of people paid homage to what they called his ‘grand service to Islam.’ Those who came out to honour the criminal significantly outnumbered those who lit a candlelight vigil for the victim. The very upholders of law garlanded Qadri and received him as a hero.

Seven months into the proceedings, no verdict has yet been reached on the case. One may ask what more evidence the courts are looking for to implicate Qadri in this heinous crime.

Five months after Mr Taseer’s tragic murder, another killing gripped news headlines across Pakistan. An unarmed young man, Sarfaraz Shah, was killed at close range by a team of Rangers in Karachi. Video evidence of the brutality soon surfaced and six Rangers were arrested. Two months into case hearings, a verdict was reached. Shahid Zafar, the man behind the trigger, was recently sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi. The other men arrested (five paramilitary soldiers and one civilian) were sentenced to life imprisonment and heavy fines.

Considering Shah’s case as standard, a verdict on Mr Taseer’s case should have been recorded five months back. This did not happen and nothing is expected to happen anytime soon. Unfortunately, Shah and Taseer were not equal citizens of the state. Talking of equality of its citizens, even murders are not equally treated in Pakistan. One was met with condemnation, the other with veneration.

Continue Reading on Newsline

[Newsline]: Hiding Behind the Drones

I wrote the following piece for Newsline. Read the full article by clicking here.

Down with the drones: Imran Khan has waged a war against drone attacks, and it seems to be resonating with Pakistani citizens.

Imran Khan promises to free Pakistan of injustice, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy and unemployment while empowering women and securing equal rights for religious minorities. But Khan’s critics label him a Taliban sympathiser who garners support by using the anti-US card when anti-US sentiments already are high. Whereas Khan staunchly opposes the drone strikes in Pakistan and repeatedly blames them for rising terrorism in the country, critics feel he has not been vocal enough in condemning religious fanatics across Pakistan. And while he has not protested against suicide attacks on the civilian population, he is on his way to lead a second sit-in against CIA-operated Predator drones, this time in the country’s financial capital, Karachi. His claim: the menace of terrorism (which the US claims the drones contain) can be uprooted within 90 days under his leadership if the drones stopped raining ‘hellfire.’

Is the US really the reason for growing terrorism in Pakistani society? Are drones targeting innocent civilians? Would terrorism be contained if the drones were to stop?

Drone attacks began in 2004. Only nine strikes occurred in the first four years of the program. Since January of 2008, however, there have been over 230 incidents of drone attacks in Pakistan’s north. But the history of terrorism in Pakistan precedes these events by decades.

From the 1986 Pan Am hijacking in Karachi to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has been implicated in many acts of global terrorism. Even foreigners have found Pakistan a fertile haven for terror. As such, many international terrorists in recent history have been proven to either have trained in Pakistan or been arrested on its soil. Here are a few of those names: Waleed bin Attash of Yemen who killed 17 people in the 2000 USS Cole attack; Ahmed Ghailani of Tanzania who was responsible for the death of over 200 people in the twin US embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania;Khalid Sheikh Mohammad of Kuwait who masterminded the 9/11 tragedy; Umar Patek of Indonesia who killed hundreds in Bali; senior Al-Qaeda operative Abu Faraj al-Libbi of Libya; and now Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.

Read More: http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2011/05/hiding-behind-the-drones/

[Newsline] I Still Wait: An Ahmedi Looks for Support

I wrote the following piece for Newsline. Read the full article by clicking here.

No religious freedom: Jinnah’s Pakistan was dealt a severe blow in 1974 when Ahmedis were declared a non-Muslim minority.

Laws are meant to discipline and protect. In Pakistan, not all laws do either.

Recently, especially after the cold-blooded murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, a good part of the Pakistani blogosphere voiced opinions against the abuse of the Blasphemy Law. Much has been said – a stronger part of which has been silenced – on its exploitation. However, what I still long to hear from my Pakistani friends is a strong word of condemnation on the specific anti-Ahmedi laws of the country.

The situation is so bleak that many people are completely unaware of these draconian Laws. In April of 1984, Zia-ul-Haq issued the opprobrious anti-Ahmedi Ordinance XX. As if the hatred spread by the mullah brigade was not enough to castigate them, it was decided that rigorous imprisonment and fines would be utilised to chastise the Ahmedis.

Many Ahmedis, including three of my maternal uncles, were rounded up in various parts of the country. Some were guilty of saying the Islamic Creed, the Kalima, which is a proclamation of the oneness of God and the truth of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). How ironic. Others were jailed for using words and epithets on wedding and business cards that are supposed to be used by state-defined Muslims only. The law forbade the use of words such as “InshAllah” (God willing) and “Bismillah” (In the Name of Allah). To say the salaam was also declared a crime. Each of these ‘crimes’ was punishable by three years of imprisonment and a fine.

The mullah brigade did not stop there. An important question arose: was the three-year imprisonment enough for such heinous crimes? The death penalty was suggested. Ahmedis were declared worthy of being killed or wajib-ul-qatal. The Azan or call to prayer was banned in Ahmedi places of worship, which were refused the title masjid or mosque. To refer to them as such or to refer to any Ahmedi as a Muslim was declared an offence under the law. Reciting the Quran or praying in public or carrying out any other acts that made the perpetrator appear a Muslim were declared punishable with three years in jail. On one side of prison sat rapists and murderers and on the other sat those who had recited the Kalima or said the salaam.

Read More: http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2011/05/i-still-wait-an-ahmedi-looks-for-support

Op-Ed: A new day for the Muslim-American community

This Op-Ed was published in the New Jersey Record. Original Post – http://www.northjersey.com/news/opinions/chaudhry_050411.html

Osama Bin Laden

PRESIDENT OBAMA in his historic Sunday night address described Osama bin Laden as a mass murderer. “Osama was never a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer,” he said.

When bin Laden orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks, some Muslims hailed him as a hero of Islam. Throughout the past decade, he has been an inspiration for radical youth and an institution for radicalizing others. He exploited religion as a lethal weapon against humanity.

This is why at his death, religious parties in Pakistan are silent. A protest was held in the Pakistani city of Quetta, the first of its kind after his death, and in the same city where he was given the titles of “martyr” and “supreme fighter.”

As a Muslim-American youth leader belonging to the Islamic-American organization the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, I venture to explain just why President Obama was right and Osama sympathizers wrong in celebrating bin Laden as a Muslim leader.

Islam categorically rejects violence in all its forms. The Quran forbids Muslims from committing iniquity and causing disorder. It advocates against murder and compares the killing of one person to the killing of all mankind.

It also repeatedly highlights the importance of acting righteously and making peace between men. Did Osama follow these injunctions? No. Obama 1, Osama 0.

In the presence of such strong condemnation of violence from Islam, Osama had to exploit jihad to legitimize his nefarious plans. An Arabic word that literally means “struggle,” Osama perverted the meaning of jihad to a violent struggle against innocents.

Prophet Muhammad had clearly stated that the greater jihad was a struggle against oneself, against one’s inner temptations. The only time fighting is allowed in Islam is in defense and specifically to protect the freedom of religion.

Muslims are enjoined to protect all houses of worship including churches and synagogues.

Peace, freedom

Muslim-Americans live in complete peace and enjoy total religious freedom, something uncommon in many Muslim countries. Still, bin Laden bombed churches and mosques and was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, most of them Muslims themselves. Did he follow the injunctions of the Holy Quran? No. Obama 2, Osama 0.

The vast majority of Muslims in the world are peace-loving citizens loyal to their countries of residence, loyalty being an important injunction of Islamic teaching. Prophet Muhammad said, “Loyalty to one’s homeland is part of faith.” In contrast, Osama brainwashed already disturbed youth and turned them into perpetrators of terror against their own homeland.

Failed Times Square bomb plotter Faisal Shehzad is one such example. Did he follow the injunctions of the Holy Quran? No. Obama 3, Osama 0.

An icon of terror

Bin Laden was an icon of terror, a cold-blooded mass murderer. I am grateful that Obama and the majority of my fellow Americans understand this fact.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA continues to present the real teachings of Islam. As part of the national “Muslims for Peace” campaign, I, along with scores of Ahmadi Muslim-American youth, are reaching out to approximately 2 million Americans distributing fliers that highlight the importance of peace, love and loyalty in the Islamic faith.

The death of bin Laden does not end the threat of terror, but the response it generated in the Muslim-American community is a message of hope.

Just like Obama, the vast majority of Muslim-Americans recognize the difference between a mass murderer and a true Muslim leader.

Why the ‘Muslims for Peace’ campaign is relevant

On a recent ‘Muslims for Peace’ flier distribution in Passaic NJ, we asked random people what they thought a Muslim would look like. “A bearded man riding a camel,” said one man. When asked what objection she had to Muslims, another Catholic woman said, “They beat their wives and believe Jesus was false.” When asked how she had so much (mis)information on Islam, she paused to think and replied, “Everyone knows this.” Most of the people interviewed had never interacted with a Muslim and had never read anything on Islam.

Favorable opinions of Islam have declined over the last five years. According to figures from the Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans in August 2010 had a positive opinion of Islam as opposed to 41% in July 2005.

If accurate, this translates to about 30 million people who have disapproved of Islam after having held a favorable opinion of the faith in the last 5 years – i.e. about 6 million Americans each year and about 11 Americans every minute in the five years studied.

What have Muslims done (or not done) to meet this disfavor?

In the same poll, there was no significant difference in the percentage of Americans between 2005 and 2010 who thought Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. Surprisingly, radicalization of Muslims did not reflect on the poll as the main reason for the loss of favorable opinion.

Whereas there was almost a 10% drop in the number of Americans who favored Islam in this study, there was not much difference in those who said they had an unfavorable opinion. Most of those who lost a favorable opinion of Islam merely said they did not know or were not familiar enough. This points to a large group of Americans who merely lack proper awareness of Islam and a significant number that is more confused about it.

Two important inferences can be drawn from this study.

Firstly, we can assume that though radicalization of Muslims has probably played the biggest role in the negative opinion of Islam in the USA, this effect has almost plateaued (thanks to all the thwarted plots?).

Secondly, education and awareness will play the key role in reversing the now predominately negative opinion of Islam amongst Americans. The main reason for the resentment seems to be unawareness of Islam.

To reverse this trend would require Muslim-Americans to be more proactive. They will have to educate the American people (including Muslim-Americans) on the true teachings of Islam and help remove any misunderstandings. Eleven Americans will have to be reached out to every minute, six million every year.

This is the exact number of Americans that one Muslim group has vowed to reach out to. The ‘Muslims for Peace’ campaign of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA is taking the true peaceful message of Islam to street corners all across the US. They are going door-to-door delivering peace fliers and condemning terrorism in all its forms. They are preaching ‘love, peace and loyalty’ and inviting Americans to remove any misconceptions that they might entertain.

So, coming back to the question, ‘What have Muslims done (or not done) to meet this disfavor?’ – they have not been proactive enough to spread awareness of the true teachings of Islam. Likewise, many American people have relied too much on media stereotyping and have not interacted with fellow Muslim citizens enough. It is only through mutual outreach efforts that misunderstandings could be removed and the decline in favorable opinion of Islam likely be reversed.

When we told the Christian lady that the Koran mentions Jesus as a holy prophet of God and wives have equal rights in Islam, she was astounded. “Really?” She asked with disbelief. “One down”, I said to myself.

My interview with ‘The Record’ on the streets of Paterson, NJ

Distributing 'Muslims for Peace' flyers in NJ

Almost every weekend, Ahmadi Muslim youth from all across the USA take to the streets to distribute peace flyers. Part of the wider ‘Muslims for Peace’ campaign launched by the Ahmadiyya MuslimCommunity USA, the flyers aim to remove misunderstandings and mistrust between American people and Islam. This past weekend, I was interviewed by reporters as I distributed flyers  with a ‘Muslims for Peace’ youth group in downtown Paterson. The following was published in ‘The Bergen Record’ on Feb 27th [online here – http://www.northjersey.com/community/religion/022711_Muslim_group_spreads_message_of_love_acceptance_in_Paterson.html]


“When Muslim extremists hijacked planes to use as missiles against New York and Washington, they in effect hijacked Islam”, Kashif Chaudhry — an Englewood doctor — said.

So for the past year, almost every weekend, Chaudhry and thousands of other Muslim-Americans across the country have fought to get it back — and reverse a popular belief among Westerners that their religion promotes violence. They wage this public relations war with advertisements on the sides of buses, brochures handed out on street corners and simple conversation with anyone who’ll listen.

On Sunday, the Muslims for Peace movement’s North Jersey chapter was in Paterson at the corner of Market and Main streets passing out pamphlets that read “Love for all — hatred for none.” In a month or so, they’ll likely fan out to Bergen County, perhaps Englewood, Chaudhry said.

“I want to change the perception out there,” said Anwar Muhammad, one of more than a dozen volunteers, mostly from the same Clifton mosque, standing at the Paterson intersection. “Most Muslims are not violent and proclaiming jihad.”

The campaign, run by the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, aims to counter negative generalizations about Muslims that have led to such turmoil as the protests over building a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Chaudhry, 28, said the timing of their effort with the recent clashes between dictators and pro-democracy protesters across the Middle East was coincidence. But the relevance is there. Just as the protestors retaliate against oppressive regimes, so has the Ahmadiyya sect endured the spurn of intolerance, Chaudhry said. According to the volunteers, its followers must address themselves as non-Muslims in Pakistan or face three years in jail. Saudi Arabia refuses them pilgrimage access to Mecca. Many have been killed by the Taliban for their non-traditional beliefs – namely, that church and state be separate.

Here also their brochures — adorned with a dove and the word “terrorism” crossed out — are not always well received. “My job is to deliver a message of peace,” said Muhammad, who emigrated from Pakistan about six years ago. “If someone is not ready to accept it, that has to be their choice.”

Much rarer are the times — maybe “one in a hundred,” Muhammad said — when a connection with a passer-by is made. Muhammad remembers a 10-minute conversation with a man last Sunday about the Quran’s portrayal of Jesus as a prophet.

“He was surprised to hear that,” said the 30-year-old computer programmer from Parsippany.

Eddy Pepitoni, a 50-year-old Irish Catholic from Prospect Park, also seemed impressed after a brief chat with Chaudhry. He agreed that “peace is what we definitely need.” Then, before continuing on his way across Main Street, he held up the brochure with the dove to add: “The true terrorists in this county are the ones against this.”

E-mail: patberg@northjersey.com

The Doctrine of ‘Jihad’

A shorter version of this was published in the ‘Bergen Record’  here. The full text is copied below:

The word Jihad is perhaps on the top ten most feared words in the West. The same word also perhaps makes it to the top ten most ill-understood concepts amongst both Muslims and non-Muslims.

There are many sects in Islam. Just over a hundred years ago, almost all sects without exception held the belief that Jihad meant ‘Holy war’ – that waging such a war on infidels was an obligation of the Faithful Muslim. The killing of a disbeliever was Jihad and such an act entitled one to paradise and granted him the title of ‘Ghazi’ [Raider]. Important as it was to the Muslims, Jihad was referred to as the ‘sixth pillar of Islam’ by many Sunni scholars and Shia Muslims incorporated it in the ten ancillaries of faith. Anyone who dared disagree with this definition as the sole meaning of Jihad was deemed an infidel. When the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, India claimed at the end of the 19th century that the doctrine of Jihad as understood by the orthodox clerics was opposed to the true principles of Islam, he was immediately branded a heretic and an infidel by the clerics of his time.

Ahmad wrote: “They [Orthodox Muslim clerics] adhere so strongly to their doctrine of jihad—which is completely misguided and entirely contradicts the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and hadith—that they label as “dajjal ” [Antichrist] and advocate the murder of anyone who objects.” [British Govt and Jihad p.8]

Today, his peaceful interpretation of ‘Jihad’ finds place in many Muslims’ hearts. Over a hundred million followers of Ahmad reject the violent interpretation of Jihad. Not just the Ahmadiyya Muslims, sect after sect, clerics are starting to incorporate peaceful interpretations of the word and are renouncing fanaticism as unIslamic and unlawful. What used to be prime identity of the faithful is itself becoming a mark of infidelity. Knowingly or unknowingly, the interpretation of Ahmad is spreading across hearts and souls. This said, the frustration of the ‘jihadis’ is growing in their own circles.

A brief interpretation of the Islamic concept of Jihad is intended here.

Jihad is an Arabic word which literally means ‘struggle’. It has been used multiple times in the Quran and in the sayings of the Holy Prophet [pbuh]. The Quran for instance says:

“Lo! those who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape the persecution) and strive in the way of Allah, these have hope of Allah’s mercy. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” [2:218 Pickthal]

“Those of the believers who sit still, other than those who have a (disabling) hurt, are not on an equality with those who strive in the way of Allah with their wealth and lives. Allah hath conferred on those who strive with their wealth and lives a rank above the sedentary.” [4:095 Pickthal]

The word for fighting in the Quran is “Qitaal”.  Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] did fight wars, however, all without exception were defensive wars. Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] was averse to fighting all the 13 years he and his followers were tortured and put to the worst persecution in Mecca. It was not until Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] migrated to Medina and heard of the Meccans deciding to wage war on Medina that divine permission to fight was granted. What is described by islamophobes as an offensive and brutal first war was in fact a battle between nearly three hundred ill-armed Muslims and over a thousand well-armed fighters from Mecca. Seriously, I can see no person take on such a war in all sanity and claim victory beforehand. This was not an offensive but a defense against an offensive. It was a last resort to prevent innocent bloodshed in Medina and to defend the peaceful propagation of Islam. Such was the nature of all wars fought by Prophet Muhammad [pbuh].

Indeed, such fighting is a struggle. But so is spending out of one’s wealth for the poor and needy. So is fighting against one’s inner temptations. So is trying to establish the 5 daily prayers. So is to fast in the true Islamic spirit. So is to refuse to be slave of one’s inner self and rise in moral strength. Why then should the word ‘Jihad’ be limited to fighting alone.

This, with the fact that no offensive act is remotely allowed in Islam, makes the Orthodox stand on Jihad funny all the more. Talking of Jihad, the Quran says: “Ye should believe in Allah and His messenger, and should strive for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is better for you, if ye did but know.” [061:011 Pickthal]

Where is the fighting mentioned? And emphasizing the extraordinary importance of human life, it says: “Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.” [5:032 Pickthal]

The fanatic understanding of Jihad that was common at the time of Ahmad was further propagated and preached by later clerics. Prominent amongst these was Abul Aala Maududi, a religio-political figure in the Indian subcontinent, who wrote:

“Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and program of Islam regardless of the country or the Nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a state on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which nation assumes the role of the standard-bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State. Islam requires the earth—not just a portion, but the whole planet.. Towards this end, Islam wishes to press into service all forces which can bring about a revolution and a composite term for the use of all these forces is ‘Jihad’… the objective of the Islamic ‘Jihad’ is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of state rule.” [Jihad in Islam, p.6,7,22]

This probably was the wish of Maududi. The Holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet [pbuh] do not state such an aim of Islam. The aim of Islam is to submit to the will of God and to serve His creation.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad writes: “They should remember that their understanding of jihad is not at all correct, and that human sympathy is its first casualty. Their belief, that jihad should be lawful today because it was permitted in early Islam, is totally incorrect and we offer two rejoinders. The first is that their reasoning is baseless. Under no circumstance did our Holy Prophet [pbuh] raise the sword against anyone unless they had first raised the sword; mercilessly killing innocent, pious men, women and children with such brutality that reading about these events even today brings tears to our eyes. Second, even if we assume that jihad as conceived of by these clerics was obligatory in early Islam, the commandment is no longer applicable because it is written that violent jihad and religious fighting will come to an end with the appearance of the Promised Messiah, who will not raise the sword or any other earthly weapon. Prayer shall be his only instrument, and firm determination his only weapon. He will establish peace and gather together the goat and the lion. His age will be one of peace, gentleness and human sympathy. Alas! Why do these people not reflect that thirteen hundred years have passed since the Holy Prophet [pbuh] said, “yada-‘ul-harb” in honor of the Promised Messiah. These words mean that the Promised Messiah will end warfare when he comes.” [British Govt and Jihad p. 9]

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be the same Messiah and reformer awaited by all world religions. The Holy Prophet [pbuh] had said of the Messiah, “He will put an end to wars”.  Ahmad declared that of the many wrong concepts that he had come to rectify, one was the notion of ‘Jihad’. He writes:

“The second principle for which I have been appointed is the reform of the incorrect concept of jihad that is widespread among some ignorant Muslims. So God has made me understand that the prevailing concept of jihad is opposed to the Qur’anic teachings. Fighting commanded in the Holy Qur’an, was more sensible than the fighting of Moses, and possessed greater attraction than the warring of Joshua. It was based on the fact that those who took up swords unjustly, murdered Muslims without cause, and took oppression to extremes, be killed by the sword.” [Tohfah-e-Qaisariyyah, p. 10]

The only time fighting is allowed in Islam is in state of defense when an enemy launches an uncalled for offensive. Fighting is the last option in such a case and is only to be used to protect religion and one’s own life in extreme situations of persecution. In a country like the US for instance where Muslims live in peace and practice faith freely, the very thought of a violent ‘jihad’ on this soil is disgusting at the very least and totally against Islam itself.

Ahmad wrote in a letter to one of his disciples, “In this age, jihad has taken a spiritual form. And jihad in this age demands that we strive in raising the Islamic kalimah”

“Spread the meanings of the Islamic kalimah,” he preached. “Give answers to opponents, spread the beauties of the Islamic faith in the world, and manifest the truthfulness of the Holy Prophet [pbuh] to the world. This is jihad, until such a time that God shows another form in the world.”

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has understood Jihad to mean a peaceful struggle against one’s inner temptations and a peaceful struggle to spread the beauties of Islam and interfaith harmony worldwide. The Jihad of the fanatics is a concoction of their misguided power-hungry masters. It has no basis from the teachings of Islam. Where a rejecter of this ‘jihad’ was considered an infidel at the time of Ahmad, fanaticism is progressively being abandoned by one non-Ahmadi Muslim sect after another. Just a while back no one except the Ahmadi Muslims had this philosophy, today the violent Jihadi interpretation found in the literature of most Muslim sects is being rejected by their followers themselves!

While some misguided Muslims are still killing others – including Muslims – in the name of Islam and Jihad, the Ahmadi Muslims are doing their Jihad by striving to make people understand the true meaning of Jihad and show them the beautiful and peaceful image of Islam. The majority lie between the two – silent witnesses. It is time to choose a side.