Friday, May 5, 2017

USA: Islam and Round Rock -- mosque member explains faith


“In Austin, the campaign received an extremely positive response. But that’s preaching to the choir — we weren’t really pushing the envelope.”

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | US Desk
Source/Credit: American-Statesman
By Dahlia Dandashi | May 4, 2017

In the wake of high political and social tension around the country, one Muslim organization is fighting to create love and understanding between and within communities.

Muhammad Ahmad, an outreach coordinator of the Round Rock-based Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Austin, talks about his faith, the Ahmadiyya sect and fostering relationships as a Round Rock resident in Central Texas.

First and foremost, what is Islam?

Ahmad described Islam as a monotheistic religion which professes in only one God — Allah — and that the final messenger was the Prophet Muhammad. The word Islam means “submission to the will of God.” Along with Muslims believing in prophets like Jesus, Moses and Abraham, Muslims follow the holy book of the Qur’an as a guide. They also follow the Sunnah, which lies out the Five Pillars of Islam: declaration of faith, prayer five times a day, giving money to charity, fasting and completing a pilgrimage to Mecca. Islam is mostly divided by Sunni and Shia Muslims, which are split in their belief of who Prophet Muhammad’s successor truly was.

What is Ahmadiyya?

“We consider the Ahmadiyya movement or sect as a revival of Islam,” Ahmad said. “It was founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani in 1889 as a revival movement in India.”

The first missionary came to the U.S. in the 1920s, establishing the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA as the first Muslim-American organization. The first purpose-built mosque erected in Chicago, which Ahmad said signifies it was “built by a missionary for the purpose of congregation.”

So, how are Ahmadiyya Muslims different from Sunni and Shia Muslims?

“The main difference between us and Sunni or Shia Muslims is that we believe that the second coming has already happened,” Ahmad said. “Every religion is looking for a second coming, and we believe that Mirza fulfilled that prophecy.”

Ahmadiyyas also follow the Qur’an and Sunnah, believing that the former takes precedence. Ahmad says the movement has a correlation to early Christianity.

Where are the mosques?

There are locations in Round Rock, Houston, Fort Worth and Dallas, with hundreds more scattered across the U.S. and worldwide. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Austin in Round Rock serves Central Texas and is located at 800 Deepwood Drive.

“We’ve been at this address for about 10 years,” said Ahmad, who is a Round Rock resident and employee at Dell Technologies. “Once they found a space, which was previously an old Baptist Church, things started to come together.”

How does the mosque function within the community?

Besides a minor incident in 2007, Ahmad says the mosque has had no issues of discrimination within the Round Rock community. A Christmas tree with strips of bacon was found at the mosque’s front door around the time it opened, but Ahmad says they all presumed it was some high schooler pulling a prank.

“Since then, we have conducted several outreach programs every year where we open the mosque up for people to come in. In Ramadan, we have dinners where people sit and join us,” Ahmad said.

What are relations like with churches and other mosques in the area?

Rapport with churches and other non-Ahmadiyya mosques have strengthened, especially in the last couple of years, Ahmad said. “We do blood drives at the mosque in Round Rock and partner with some of the churches and do interfaith,” Ahmad said. They have also invited churches over for community dinners and vice versa.

What involvement does the mosque have in community campaigns and efforts?

Beyond blood drives and other community service efforts, the mosque holds events and puts forth campaigns to break down stigmas and stereotypes about Islam. #MeetAMuslim Day in March had members of the community come together with signs and shirts in the streets to entice dialogue and introduce many to the Muslim faith.

“In Austin, the campaign received an extremely positive response,” Ahmad said. “But that’s preaching to the choir — we weren’t really pushing the envelope.” From there, he said mosque members conducted the same campaign in Georgetown and Taylor. “People were hugging us. We had no problems.”

Ahmad says that most of the questions were along the lines of concern, like “How is the community treating you?”

Talk about ‘Coffee, Cake and True Islam.’

Every Wednesday, a weekly chat at Round Rock’s Corner Bakery Cafe and Cafe Medici in Austin is held by mosque members in effort to spur discussion, promote truth and answer questions about Islam. The aim is to close a divide between the Muslim community and the non-Muslim community by means of open dialogue. The chats began in November and ramped up in January.

“We’ve had 12 people show up here before, and we weren’t able to talk to everyone,” Ahmad said. “Other times, two people have showed up, but that’s more than enough for me.”

Has the mosque experienced any hostility in recent months?

“Since the election, we have actually received two carts of flowers and other gifts that people have left at our door,” Ahmad said. “People are saying, ‘Hey, you’re welcome in this community. Please, if you have any problems, reach out to us.’”

The only “conflict” Ahmad recalls was when a woman called a number listed in an article about the mosque’s weekly “Coffee, Cake and True Islam.” Though the number was for a mosque member, she had called with the intention of stating her concern to Corner Bakery Cafe about holding such a meeting.

“When the mosque member answered the phone, he said, ‘Well, I’m actually the one organizing it, do you have any questions?’”

What would you tell someone who still has doubts about the Ahmadiyya community or just Islam in general?

Ahmad implores people to seek someone out. “Talk to a Muslim,” he said. “Rather than hearing out what others say about Islam, why don’t you learn about it for yourself?

“And if there’s any silver lining from what’s going on nationally, it’s that more people are curious,” Ahmad said. “And when more people are curious, rather than actually making assumptions, they actually make an effort to come out and talk.”


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