TIME Religion

Extremism Is a Concept Alien to Islam–And to Human Decency

Like hundreds of other Ahmadi Muslims, Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar was murdered only for his faith. Combined, education and compassion can conquer such extremism.

Dr. Mehdi Ali Qamar was the type of friend every American would proudly brag about. He was a loyal U.S. citizen. He was only 50, a loving husband and father of three. He dedicated his life to medicine and to finding ways to stop the suffering of others. He was only on day two of a three-week humanitarian mission to Pakistan to provide free healthcare to the needy when he was fatally shot a dozen times in the early morning of May 26, in front of his wife and two-year-old son—who watched in horror.

Like hundreds of other Ahmadi Muslims, Qamar was murdered only for his faith. He was murdered because he was an Ahmadi Muslim—a Muslim who believes in the Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian. It is for this belief alone that Ahmadi Muslims face intense persecution in nations like Pakistan.

And while some critics are quick to point to such murders as examples of alleged “Islamic” terrorism, few have the education or compassion to see the peaceful and patient response as examples of Islamic teaching. While such religious violence leads to both loss of life and additional fear of Muslims and Islam, ironically, therein lies the key to counter such loss and fear.

For Ahmadi Muslims, these death threats, and the days of most intense pain after a loved one is murdered, are the opportunity to reassert a campaign for humanity based on education and compassion. The extremists sending Ahmadi Muslims death threats are the same extremists killing Christians, spewing anti-Semitism and demanding theocratic rule. They are the ones promoting death for blasphemy laws, opposing female equity and equality and demanding suffocating restrictions on individual expression and thought. These are the ones hell-bent on a barbaric violent Jihad of the sword—a concept alien to Islam and human decency.

Thus, rather than pointing fingers at each other, this is our opportunity to unite against such intolerance wherever it exists. And this call to unity can manifest itself in any number of ways. So it wasn’t just the threats of murder, but the murdered themselves—like Qamar’s death painfully reminds me—who convinced me to write The Wrong Kind of Muslim and tell the story that millions can’t under threat of death. Thus, I believe all people of all backgrounds can unite on the following two principles.

First, I am beyond disgusted that terrorists and extremists dominate what Christians, Jews, atheists and other non-Muslim groups hear about Islam. I am a Muslim for peace, I exist and my voice deserves a platform. Dr. Mehdi Ali’s voice deserves a platform. His acts of service to and love of humanity deserve a platform. And millions of Muslims in Pakistan and worldwide exist who reject terrorism, extremism, intolerance and oppression deserve a platform too. The Wrong Kind of Muslim, for example, is just one attempt to tell the story they can’t tell, often under penalty of death—but it is a story that must be told. Thus, we have the chance to unite on the principle that education is an irreplaceable element to combat extremism.

But education alone is not enough.

Second, compassion must supplement that education. I believe that every human being of any faith or of no faith has the fundamental human right to believe or not believe as they wish. I believe no person, no government, no religious authority has the right to interfere in an individual’s personal beliefs. I believe that we are all equal human beings and our differences are not a source of division, but of recognition and strength. I believe that only when we recognize our differences, instead of glazing over them like they don’t exist, will any meaningful understanding of one another come to fruition. Thus, compassion for humanity and interaction with humanity melts away fear of one another.

Combined, education and compassion can conquer extremism. Education arms us against internal ignorance, and compassion compels us to engage in external collaboration. United, we can repeal Pakistan’s barbaric anti-blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws, avenge those lost to violence by ensuring a peaceful future and ensure we write the right narrative of humanity with tolerance—not terrorism.

But until we gain a critical and unified mass, the murders will continue—of Christians, Hindus, Shia Muslims and atheists, among others. May 28th marked the 4-year anniversary that the Taliban murdered 86 Ahmadi Muslims in broad daylight, and in response both Pakistan and Muslim leadership have remained silent. Qamar was murdered just this week—only for his faith. Last week another Ahmadi Muslim, Khalil Ahmad, was murdered while in police custody—only for his faith. And beware, next week approaches quickly.

Whatever your faith, I am here to convince you that we must remain united against extremism wherever it lies.

Countless people who you would have loved to call your friend are dying to convince you—educate yourselves, and have the compassion to listen.

Qasim Rashid is an attorney, author, and national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. He is the author of EXTREMIST: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere. Follow him @MuslimIQ.

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