Leaders in the Ahmadi Muslim Community (AMC) are making a play to rectify the absence of a centralized leadership body for the Muslim-American community by positioning themselves as the leaders of the community.
Unfortunately, their approach appears to be based on a Good Muslim/Bad Muslim dichotomy that actually ends up hurting the Muslim-American community.
The Muslim-American community is represented by a wide variety of organizations that speak to various interests. Large umbrella organizations, like the Islamic Society of North America, have not had much luck in covering the community because the diversity is nearly uncontainable. Each of these groups speaks with a voice that represents its own constituency. However, the Ahmadi community now seems to be making a serious push to become the central voice that represents Muslim-Americans.
The Ahmadis are a movement that originated in the 19th century in South Asia. They are generally considered to be the first group to come to the United States in an organized way and were heavily involved in converting African-Americans to Islam in the early part of the 20th century. In Pakistan, they are targeted by certain sectors as being heretics. This history of being a persecuted minority, but also being fairly cosmopolitan, should increase the community’s sensitivity to the way Muslims are being portrayed. Regrettably, that does not seem to be the case.
About a month ago, Faheem Younous, President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Youth Organization, wrote an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun decrying how hard it was to be Muslim and American. He pointed to tension some teenagers feel between their parents and what they learn in the media. He focuses on a largely immigrant community, ignoring the third of the community that is African-American as well as the increasing number of second and third generation immigrants. He lists a string of outlier incidents, ignorning the Muslims who helped stopped terrorist attacks, like the one in Times Square, or with the Hutarree. For every Nidal Hassan, we have tens of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khans.
Younous’ view of adolescence is stuck at least 15 years behind where the immigrant Muslim community is now. Most Muslim-American teenagers, like all teenagers, are negotiating their multiple identities, and do not see themselves in an “either/or” situation. Just like the Columbine boys do not represent the state of white, Christian teens, neither do the VA Five represent the state of Musilm American youth. The point of raising these canards seems to be a “solution” that paints the Ahmadis as the “good Muslims” and the rest of the Muslim-American community as “bad.”
This theme persisted in bus ads in New York that purport to reveal the truth about Islam and another op-ed against Park51. In the op-ed, Qasim Rashid (no relation) argues that Muhammad said, “Muslims must never practice his faith in a manner that offends his non-Muslim neighbors.” The way he paraphrases the hadith implies that if anyone objects to anything a Muslim does, they should not do it. In other words, a “good Muslim” should surrender the rights guaranteed by the state. Rashid further compounds his error by making the same mistake many people outside of New York do: Feisal Abdul-Rauf is not the head of the Park51 project. Five minutes of Googling, or actually not sticking your nose in other people’s business, would have led him to these basic points of information. There are lot of valid critiques of Park51, a project about which I am deeply ambivalent and partially opposed to. However, Rashid makes none of them. His basic point is that Muslims should surrender their rights, the rights that many of them came here for, to please a majority.
There are times to pick a fight, and there are times to run from it. In this case, there is not a fight to have a discussion over, as most Manhattanites are not opposing Park51. They know it is not near Ground Zero. They know it is not about supremacy. I think Rashid plays fast and loose with hadith in his piece, and his argument that members of the Ahmadi community should relinquish their rights is, I suppose, his perogative. But his argument should not dictate what other Muslims believe or what happens in Manhattan.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is undoubtedly and important part of the fabric of the Muslim-American community and an integral part of our history in this country. Unfortunately, in attempting to establish themselves as leaders of Muslim-America, its leaders are actually working to remove the progress the community has made in the last decade. The AMC may be intent on writing op-eds, taking out bus ads, and meeting with lawmakers on the Hill, but they should do so working with the rest of the Muslim community. There can and should be disagreement, but no one community should make itself the spokesman by tearing down all the other groups that represent Muslim-Americans.