Sunday, July 16, 2017

USA: Persecuted abroad, thousands of Ahmadi Muslims gather in central PA.


On Saturday night, the convention, which attracted over 6,000 and claims to be the longest-running convention of Muslim Americans, held a guest session for two hours.

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: York Daily Record
By Michael Nugent | July 15, 2017

“The continued rise in Islamophobia and extremism is a pressing and urgent matter."

The sign hanging in the Pennsylvania Farm Show arena had a dark background and large, bold, white Arabic lettering.

Come a little closer, and you could read the English words beneath: "LOVE FOR ALL HATRED FOR NONE."

The arena where the sign was displayed hosted thousands of Muslim men, many sitting — shoes removed — on a carpet. Here, prayers are conducted at the 69th annual Jalsa Salana (Annual Convention) of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.

On Saturday night, the convention, which attracted over 6,000 and claims to be the longest-running convention of Muslim Americans, held a guest session for two hours.

The diversity of the speakers that night was striking. Men and women. Scholars and politicians. Christians and Muslims. Republicans and Democrats.

Each brought their own take on the themes of the convention: justice, kindness and kinship.

Eric Papenfuse, mayor of Harrisburg, was just one of many state and federal politicians to speak.

"Your message of love and peace is more important now than ever, as extremists seek to become bolder and lashing out to anyone who they consider different or vulnerable," he said to the crowd.

"Different" and "vulnerable" are words that could be used to describe Ahmadiyya Muslims living abroad, especially in Pakistan, where they face persecution for their beliefs.

The sect is one of many differing Islamic traditions. Ahmadiyya Muslims follow a single leader who succeeds a 19th century prophet who they believe to be the messiah. They also claim to be the only Islamic organization to endorse the separation of mosque and state.

Howard University School of Law adjunct professor Dr. Waris Husain told those in attendance that in Pakistan, blasphemy laws had been "weaponized" against Ahmadiyya Muslims and other minorities. Just the accusation of the "crime" can be fatal.

Sitting in the crowd, Babar Malik, of Pakistan, found the conference "rejuvenating." It reminded him of some of the core teachings of his faith: "Despite the situation, do not react. Even if you are ... going through a hate crime or you're going through something bad, do not react the way they do. If they hit you, if they try to murder you — just get away from it. Be defensive, not offensive."

Speakers and organizers alike were unified in their condemnation of hate, extremism and violence.

“The continued rise in Islamophobia and extremism is a pressing and urgent matter,” said Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah, Senior Vice President of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, in a statement. “We must work together as Americans to effectively root out discrimination and intolerance of any kind.”

Other themes were evident, too.

A love for country was clear, both from the speakers and the American flags hung throughout the convention.

Ahmadiyya Muslims believe the Quran teaches them to be loyal to their country of residence, a point that is often distorted by extremists, said Salaam Bhatti, national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.

"The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, has taught and said that loyalty to your country of residence is part of your faith. He was very explicit in the words," Bhatti said.

Looking around the convention, another theme was evident too: Joy.

Children ran with bubble blowers. Men greeted each other with handshakes and smiles. Many enjoyed Kulfi, a frozen Indian delicacy.

There, however, were few women in sight, prompting questions from viewers of a livestream of the event.

Women had a separate program in another part of the convention, said Bhatti. "The separation between genders is also something that Islam teaches. It also helps us, you know, to focus on our faith, focus on our prayer." Bhatti said.

Ahmadiyya Muslims have started a campaign called True Islam to combat extremist interpretations of Islam's teachings. The project's website lists 11 teachings of Islam that it says are distorted by extremists: trueislam.com.


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